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Meet Dr. Pandya- director of IIAS’ Space Medicine Group and a speaker at Expedition Medicine

2 June, 2022
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We’re excited to present Dr. Shawna Pandya, one of our amazing speakers at Expedition Medicine this august. She is a physician, aquanaut, and scientist-astronaut candidate program graduate with the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS).

  • What made you go into space medicine?

I was inspired to pursue medicine because Canada’s first female astronaut, Dr. Roberta Bondar, was a physician before she was an astronaut, and I wanted to be an astronaut just like her! I never forgot about my space dream, however, and opted to pursue an MSc in Space Studies at the International Space University prior to medical school. That was the first time I learned about the challenges of human spaceflight and the hazards of the spaceflight environment – and that space medicine was an entire field of study!

I was even lucky enough to complete an internship at the European Space Agency’s European Astronaut Centre through their Crew Medical Support Office. That was my first opportunity to build our collective knowledge of the safety aspects of humans in space. Later on, I completed an Aerospace Medicine Elective at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre. These experiences really kindled my passion for this field, and I am lucky enough to continue to contribute to research in human spaceflight today.

  • What advice would you give others who also want to specialize in space medicine?

My advice would be to look for opportunities to get involved with now, such as student and professional organizations, as well as networking opportunities, like conferences. Become familiar with the paths towards aerospace medicine within your own country, as it is variable depending on where you are. Look for projects that you may be interested in participating in. Ask questions! Also keep an eye out for opportunities you may need to work towards becoming qualified for. For example, I was aware of the JSC-NASA Aerospace Medical Elective since high school, but wasn’t qualified to apply until I was in my final year of medical school, over 10 years later! I used that time to build up my space and space medicine CV, taking part in conferences and projects, while also publishing papers and book chapters, which in turn eventually made me a competitive candidate when it came time to apply for the elective.

  • Top three challenges for human space flight?

Only 3?! Now you’re asking the hard questions, haha. Broadly speaking, I think the challenges lie in keeping space safe yet accessible with the rise of commercial space, and continually revising medical guidelines for commercial suborbital and orbital spaceflight as we invite all age groups with varying levels of fitness and comorbidities to go to space. On the other end of the spectrum, we have several challenges for exploration-class missions to destinations like the Moon, Mars, and beyond. These include everything from radiation to the Space Adaptation Neuro-ocular syndrome (SANS) to augmenting astronauts’ in-situ medical care capabilities to dealing with the isolation and confinement of a long-duration mission where Earth is days to MONTHS away – and if you want to know more about each of these – come to my talk at Expedition Medicine!

  • What do you always have in your first-aid kit?

My first-aid kit always contains a combination of portable and either highly used or highly desirable in case of an emergency medications, including over the counter analgesics, cortisone cream, aspirin and decongestants. I also adapt this to the duration and location of travel to augment my kit. I added burn cream and burn dressings after an unintentional run-in with a hot motorcycle exhaust pipe while I was at a Muay Thai fight camp in Thailand (but I won the fight!).

About the speaker

Dr. Shawna Pandya is a physician, aquanaut, scientist-astronaut candidate program graduate with the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS), skydiver, pilot-in-training, VP Immersive Medicine with Luxsonic Technologies, Director of Medical Research at Orbital Assembly Corporation and Fellow of the Explorers Club. She is Director of IIAS’ Space Medicine Group and Chief Instructor for IIAS’ Operational Space Medicine course.

Dr. Pandya was on the first crew to test a commercial spacesuit in zero-gravity in 2015. She earned her aquanaut designation on the 2019 NEPTUNE (Nautical Experiments in Physiology, Technology and Underwater Exploration) mission. In 2021, she was granted an Honorary Fellowship in Extreme and Wilderness Medicine and named to the Canadian Women’s Executive Network’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women.

Her work is permanently exhibited at the Ontario Science Center. In 2022, Dr. Pandya was named to the Explorers’ Club’s “50 Explorers Changing the World,” and ranked #5 on the 2022 Top 100 Women in Aerospace and Aviation to follow on LinkedIn.

Follow Dr Pandya on LinkedIn here.

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