Written by: Sabrina Doyle

Q&A: Dr. Shawna Pandya on the Jasper Dark Sky Festival

Shawna Pandya

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Dr. Shawna Pandya is a physician, scientist-astronaut candidate, speaker, martial artist and adventurer. She’s also a Jasper Dark Sky Festival veteran, having been a featured speaker for multiple years.
Dr. Shawna Pandya’s resume is as long as it is diverse and impressive. She is a physician, scientist-astronaut candidate, speaker, martial artist and adventurer. She has tested commercial spacesuits in micro-gravity, researched medical operations that could be performed outside a spacecraft and published book chapters that span from psychosocial resilience in long-duration spaceflight to space medicine spin-offs that benefit terrestrial medicine.
Dr. Pandya spoke at both the 2019 and 2020 iterations of the Jasper Dark Sky Festival, both via the SpaceTalks event and the tasty new series, Science for Breakfast (catch Torah Kachur and Hilding Neilson‘s morning presentations on Oct. 23 and 24). 
Here, she discusses the festival, Jasper’s dark sky preserve, and why she’s so passionate about space.

On the importance of dark sky preserves

The fact that we have a dark sky preserve in our very own backyard here in the Rockies in Alberta, and that we can share that dark sky with the public and teach them about astronomy and what it means to be a part of this universe and what we’re continually finding out about our universe is incredible.

On why people should come to the Jasper Dark Sky Festival

A festival like the Jasper Dark Sky Festival is an incredible mark on the calendar, and an incredible event to celebrate because it brings scientists across all walks of space exploration—whether they’re astrophysicists or astronomers, whether they’re more interested in human exploration or space medicine—because it shows the world how much there is to space. It’s not just space; there’s space exploration, there’s space transportation, there’s astrobiology, there’s planetary geology, and to have all those experts under one roof is pretty exciting and pretty incredible for the public. If anyone has any type of interest in space, there’s something for them to find at the Jasper Dark Sky Festival.

On being a woman in a STEM field

When I think about what it means to be a woman in STEM field, I try not to think about it because I’m driven by passion. But I know that there are others out there who may not feel the same and I want anyone to know, whether they’re an underdog because of their gender or because of their ethnicity, you don’t need to worry about it. Work really really hard and act like you belong here. Because you 100% belong here.
I’ve had a lifelong passion for STEM and have wanted to be an astronaut since I was a kid and to be alive in a day and age where space is becoming incredibly and increasingly accessible and democratized makes me feel incredibly lucky, and I’m working as incredibly hard as I can to make my dream of going to space a reality.
Having had role models like Roberta Bondar, who was the first Canadian woman in space, I think it’s important that if you want to travel the road less travelled, it’s important to be a role model for those who may not think they can do it because they don’t have that representation.

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

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