Two Edmonton doctors are going to space.
At least that’s the hope, after Shawna Pandya and Michael Gallagher spent a week training in Project PoSSUM’s far-out Scientist-Astronaut Course at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.
The medical doctors donned spacesuits, rode on aerobatic flights and experienced changing gravity environments as part of the training that could ultimately land them a trip to space, in the name of science.
“Since I was a kid, I loved space, I loved the stars. So this kind of is a realization of a life-long dream,” said Pandya after returning to Edmonton.
The object of the training is to familiarize candidates with conditions that exist around noctilucent clouds, which are thought to be increasing in the upper mesosphere as a result of climate change.
Astronauts will be sent up in suborbital flights to study the clouds.
“The point is to raise awareness of upper atmospheric science, and then also to get a pool of candidates going for when suborbital flights start launching, either in 2017 or early 2018,” Pandya said, adding she would love to be part of such a mission.
Pandya did her Masters in Space Studies at the International Space University and researched at both the European Astronaut Centre and NASA’s Johnson Space Centre.
Just nine other candidates from Canada, the United States and Spain joined the two Edmonton doctors in completing the second-ever training class conducted by PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere) last week.
“The people I met down there were just brilliant. They came from physics backgrounds, computer science backgrounds, medical backgrounds – so that was I think definitely a highlight,” Pandya said.
“I didn’t expect everything to be so fun. Every single day. It was like being at Disneyland for smart people.”
Pandya, Gallagher and University of Alberta physics PhD Ross Lockwood will head to Ottawa next week to complete spacesuit training and testing in zero-gravity.
The intense training is a lot to juggle with long shifts at her hospital job in Edmonton, but Pandya will make it work.
“It is a bit of a balancing act, but it’s all good, fun stuff, so it is what it is,” she said.