NASA picks Keralite as astronaut trainee, space mission on the cards

Athira Preetha Rani:Manorama

Malayinkeezhu (Thiruvananthapuram): It has always been Athira Preetha Rani's dream to touch the stars. Now, the 24-year-old Thiruvananthapuram native can fulfil her dream as she has been selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for their astronaut training programme.

If she successfully completes the training, then Athira would be the next Indian woman to fly to the space after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams. Moreover, she would be the first-ever Keralite astronaut too.

Athira, the daughter of Peyad natives V Venu and Preetha, has been interested in space and astronauts ever since she was studying in school. Her knowledge widened when she began attending the classes of Astra, an astronomical society in Kerala's capital city. It was here that Athira met her future husband Gokul.

Funding own studies
Athira was determined to continue her education while earning. Besides, she wished to become a pilot as it would help her achieve her aims, quite easily. She secured admission at Algonquin College in Ottawa, Canada, at a young age itself. There, she got in for Robotics course with a scholarship. She began doing small jobs when she learned that one could train to become a pilot in Canada without joining the Air Force. She saved enough money to join for pilot training. Meanwhile, she completed her Robotics course with high marks.

It was around this time that Athira tied the knot with Gokul. The duo then began a startup in Canada for research related to space studies. Months ago, they started the Exo Geo Aerospace company too. She then began enquiring about various astronaut training programmes.

Training lasts 3-5 years
Athira soon got selected to the astronaut training programme conducted by the International Institute of Astronautical Science. The training programme is jointly run by the NASA, Canadian Space Agency and National Research Council of Canada. Athira underwent various stages of selection including the medical tests.

Twelve trainees from various parts of the world are part of the group. The training lasts for 3 to 5 years. Athira says that she wishes to do research in bioastronautics after that.

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