Priya Patel, an Indian-origin space scientist, has set up an NGO called Sharda Foundation to “provide resources to young Indian students from low socio-economic strata to give them exposure to space facilities abroad”.
Patel, who was born in Kadi, Gujarat, and went to school in the state capital, Gandhinagar, has trained and worked with the world’s leading space agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA). She completed her bachelor’s degree in physics from Imperial College, London, and her master’s degree in space sciences engineering from University College London. Currently, she is doing her PhD from University College London, in coordination with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.
In an interview with TOI, Patel revealed that her own experiences propelled her to set up this NGO. “My parents gave me these opportunities through sacrifices they made as they moved out of India. I was fortunate enough to have this experience, but now I want to ensure that such experiences are shared with those that are truly passionate about space, but do not have the resources to follow their passion,” she said in a telephonic conversation.
She also revealed that “the idea behind setting up NGO Sharda Foundation, named after my grandmother, is to bring talented and passionate Indian school students to a space agency facility abroad, either NASA or ESA, to allow students to experience the space culture in various countries. I want to bring resources to my home country where there is ample talent and passion for space exploration.”
Patel, who is proud to be representing Indian women in STEM, wants to become an astronaut herself, and dreams of becoming the first Indian to reach the Moon and Mars. The 25-year-old is currently also working on collecting atmospheric data from NASA’s Perseverance Rover, which landed on Mars in February 2021. She has also previously worked on data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and will be working on the ESA’s ExoMars Rover, which will be launched in 2022.