Aathira Preetharani, a space entrepreneur in Canada, originally from Kerala, has been selected by the International Institute of Astronautical Sciences (IIAS) to pursue Astronautics. After finishing the programme, Aathira may become the third Indian-origin woman astronaut after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams to fly to space.
The 24-year-old identifies as queer and her love for fighter jets and rockets began at the age of six.
Growing up in Thiruvananthapuram, she learned more about space through Aastro, an amateur astronomers’ society in the city. She also met her future husband Gokul, at Aastro.
Aathira was selected under Project PoSSUM, an aeronomy research programme.
She excitedly wrote in a LinkedIn post, “On my way to being an astronaut!”
“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 to The New Indian Express.
Before joining the program at Florida Tech, USA, Aathira is honing her skills as a fighter pilot. In a LinkedIn post last week, she shared the experience of flying a fighter jet for the first time.
“I was an obsessed kid growing up. Obsessed with fighter jets and rockets while all my classmates had more interesting things to share and find common ground on. The obsession meant long breaks spent at the library instead of playing with my classmates and getting bullied despite being the school leader. The fighter jets and rockets were a solace. So, I began planning on becoming a fighter pilot and working on sending things to space (spoiler alert: I am working on both right now!),” said Aathira in the post.
Since the Indian airforce had not yet inducted women fighter pilots, young Aathira decided to move to Canada and fly fighter jets. She moved to Canada for undergraduate studies on a scholarship and started saving up for flying lessons.
She said that as a neurodiverse, queer immigrant, she found it hard to get medical support.
After two years of hardship, she got cleared to fly a fighter jet.
She also runs a space company called ExoGeo Aerospace Inc, which is working toward reducing the space debris problem that the industry faces. They are also developing ways to make space travel sustainable.
“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,” said Aathira to The New Indian Express.
‘Kerala woman aims to join league of Indian-origin women astronauts’ by Sovi Vidyadharan for The New Indian Express, Published on 11 August, 2022
Aathira P; LinkedIn
Edited by Yoshita Rao