Kerala woman aims to join league of Indian-origin women astronauts

After completing the programme, Aathira hopes to join the league of Indian-origin women astronauts like Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams.

Published: 11th August 2022 06:47 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th August 2022 06:47 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Canada-based space entrepreneur Aathira Preetharani, who hails from Thiruvananthapuram, has been selected for an astronaut training programme of the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS) in the US. After completing the programme, Aathira hopes to join the league of Indian-origin women astronauts like Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams.

But the 24-year-old’s eventual flight to space would be special as she would be proudly sporting the Indian tricolour on her space suit. “Though I am based in Canada, I applied for the astronaut training programme as an Indian citizen. So I will be training as an Indian national there, with the tricolour on my training suit,” Aathira told TNIE in an online interaction from Ottawa, Canada. Aathira was selected under Project PoSSUM, an aeronomy research programme, offered by IIAS.

“PoSSUM trains people to become citizen astronauts so that you do not remain a mere passenger when you go out to space but can also carry out valuable research activities,” said Aathira. In the run-up to joining the astronaut training programme at Florida Tech in the US, she is busy honing her skills as a fighter pilot. “Scuba diving and fighter pilot experience would stand an astronaut trainee in good stead for the mission ahead,” she added.

Aathira had to wait for two years to be fully cleared to fly a fighter jet and her training sessions are slated to begin this month. An alumnus of St Thomas Central School in Thiruvananthapuram, Aathira was fascinated by space right from an early age. Her interest in space was further nurtured by the sessions held by Aastro, an amateur astronomers’ society in Thiruvananthapuram. She met her future husband Gokul at Aastro and their common interest in space made the bond stronger.

At the age of 18, Aathira moved out of her home to live on her own, with the earnings from computer programming assignments. “A year later, I moved to Canada to pursue a course in robotics. However, I changed track and began efforts to launch my own company that specialises in building space tugs to help interplanetary explorations, service satellites, and resolve the space debris problem in the earth’s orbit,” she said. Gokul, who was previously with Isro and later moved to Canada to join Aathira, is also part of the startup named Exo-Geo Aerospace Inc.

“A lot of countries are reaching out to startups like ours for ways to map the space debris and find a solution to address it. Our company would be designing, manufacturing and sending up the space tugs for the purpose,” she said. The space agencies of Canada and a few African countries have already shown interest in the project, she said.

So what is Aathira’s message to space enthusiasts back home? “Space science may look daunting, but it is something that can be mastered with systematic discipline and a little bit of creativity,” she said. Aathira’s father V Venu works at the Maldives international airport, and her mother Preetha is a homemaker.


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