Dr. Shawna Pandya says 'follow your dreams' at Jasper Dark Sky presentation

·2 min read

"Pick a dream. Make a plan to get there. Work really, really hard. Act like you belong there - because you do."

That's strong encouragement from Dr. Shawna Pandya, a physician, scientist-astronaut candidate, aquanaut, speaker, martial artist and adventurer.

Pandya was one of the presenters at this year's Dark Sky Festival. She spoke at the Lobstick Lodge on Oct. 24 and 25 about medical and health challenges faced as humans are sent into outer space, the technologies to get people there and the less-often discussed aspects of human spaceflight, and what we are learning from emergency research on the International Space Station.

Her focus and enthusiasm is as impressive as her multitude of skills.

"Space is trying to kill us - from radiation, to your bone and muscle losing density," Pandya said, outlining factors to pay attention to out there: "Radiation; decreased gravity, distance from earth, isolation and confinement - and not being voted off the spacecraft - and hostile environments."

Speaking of hostile - Pandya said lunar dust was a huge problem during the Apollo era.

"It's very hazardous to human health because it caused breathing problems because it's so fine and sharp," she said.

Even so, there are upsides to exploring space.

She said, "When we go forth and explore we find benefits for humans on earth. We learn a lot and have had a lot of technological breakthroughs in space. For example, (information about) bone density. (Also), water filtration systems used on the International Space Station have adapted for use on earth."

She talked about the technologies that will enable humans as they further from Earth, and concepts that can be borrowed from science fiction - for example, Gattaca, a science fiction movie that showed genetically modified humans have several survival advantages.

Pandya noted results were released in September about The Mighty Mouse experiment, when normal mice and GMO mice were sent into space on the International Space Station to better understand muscle and bone density on earth.

She said the GMO mice did a lot better in terms of muscle and bone density, and muscular dystrophy may benefit from research done in outer space.

Pandya shared the stage with her childhood idol, Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman in space, at the Canadian Women in Space - Permanent Exhibit at the Ontario Science Centre, Canada's largest.

"It was very, very humbling, exciting," Pandya said, and added she hopes she can inspire others like Bondar inspired her.

Pandya's interest in the STEM field - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - was inspired by many others as well, including her family. "I went on excursions with my family in western Canada and the northwest U.S. The skies are so dark," she said.

Pandya encouraged women to get into the STEM field. "Twelve per cent of space travellers have been women," she said. "Space needs more women."

Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh