Aathira Preetharani, an Indian-origin space entrepreneur in Canada has been picked up by NASA for a space program. After finishing the training and course, Athira could become the third Indian-origin woman after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Willams to step into space, not as a mere passenger but as a researcher. The 24 years old Preetharani identifies herself as queer and neurodiverse and has loved fighter jets since childhood. Despite community barriers and lack of exposure in India, her determination led her to Canada where she spread her wings far and wide.
“On my way to being an astronaut!” writes Aathira Preetharani as shares the news on LinkedIn.
Born and grown in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, Aathira’s love for fighter jets started when her father gifted her a toy jet at the age of six. At school, rather than playing with her classmates, she would spend her time in the library reading everything about aeronautics. Her learnings grew more through Aastro, an astronomer’s society in the city teaching about space and more.
“I was obsessed as a growing-up kid. 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.” Wrote Aathira on her LinkedIn post.
Since India still does not have any inducted criteria for female fighter pilots, Aathira decided to move to Canada. At the age of 18, she managed to get a scholarship to study robotics at Algonquin College, Canada. Though she studied robotics, Aathira would save up money for flying lessons and thus she mastered both.
Due to her extensive knowledge in both aeronautics and robotics, by the time she graduated college she launched her own company ExoGeo Aerospace. The company is working towards reducing the space debris problem and developing ways to make space travel more sustainable.
Space debris is a real problem the aeronautics and space industry are facing right now. These junks are sometimes the result of collisions or anti-satellite tests in the orbit and sometimes the debris left by astronauts. A lot of companies are since mapping out different ways to get rid of the problem and ExoGeo Aerospace is slowly becoming a part of the solution.
After two years of hard work, she also cleared to fly fighter jets. Preetharani, who came out as bisexual last year, credits her husband for supporting her every step of her journey. Today the 24 years old space tech has been selected by NASA for their Project PoSSUM, an aeronomy research program in Florida. Several Individuals have been chosen from across the globe and will receive training for three to five years.
“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.
Aathira Preetharani if completes the program could become the third Indian woman after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams to travel to space.