Last night, Indian media was abuzz with ‘news’ of Dr Shawna Pandya who has been selected by NASA for its 2018 space mission under the Citizen Science Astronaut (CSA) programme. It was implied that she would be the third Indian-origin woman to go to space after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams. She was called an astronaut, neurosurgeon, and an opera singer by the mainstream media and people were quick to jump the gun and bask in the reflected glory of yet another Indian-origin person doing phenomenally well abroad.
Unfortunately, in these days of fake news and 24-hour news cycles, what’s trending is given high priority; fact-checking comes later. Dr Pandya was so overwhelmed by the news and congratulatory messages that she had to clarify a couple of misstatements in a Facebook post.
She’s Not an Astronaut or Affiliated with NASA and the Canadian Space Agency
She’s a citizen-scientist astronaut with Project Possum or The PHEnOM Project. Project PoSSUM is a suborbital research and education program using citizen-science astronautics to study global climate and inspire students The PHEnOM Project is a microgravity human research program.
She’s Not a Neuroscientist
She’s a regular physician who trained in neurosurgery for a short time.
She’s Not an Opera Singer
“I am not an opera singer; I have sang opera on stage once. It went well and I would do it again; however just as boxing once does not a boxer make, neither does that one event make me an opera singer,” says Pandya in her Facebook post.
That said, Shawna has done some pretty cool stuff. The Canadian of Indian origin has completed scientist-astronaut training, co-founded a company based on a challenge to positively impact 1 billion people, assisted in paediatric cardiac surgery and is a motivational speaker. She has also won a black belt in an international taekwon-do competition, and trained in Muay Thai alongside a Navy SEAL, according to her Facebook page.