Issue 61 / The First Indian Is Headed To Mars

The First Indian Is Headed To Mars

Sep 09, 2016

Astronaut Jasleen Josan talks to us about being selected by NASA to undertake a Mars mission — the first Indian female astronaut to do so.


Jasleen Josan’s future is history in the making. While Kalpana Chawla made history by being the first Indian woman in space in 1997, Josan will be the first Sikh woman in space and the first Indian female astronaut to be selected by NASA to go to Mars.

The Orion Mission is going to be the first man mission to Mars, which is on track to take place in 2030. “NASA is really working on amazing research on this,” says the fresh-faced twenty-four-year-old Josan, who looks like she’s barely out of high school let alone a woman who was chosen last year to be a researcher for NASA’s Orion Mission. “I do feel very proud to be part of such a mission.

Technology is booming and things are going to change in another 15 years. It all depends on my capabilities and determination and how I take to these changes. I’m not nervous exactly, but just really excited and looking forward to what the future brings.”

             Josan at NASA's U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville Alabama.
Photo Credit: International Space Education Institute 

While the 2020 MARS Mission is a one-way mission — the group will habitate on Mars and not return — Josan is part of the two-way mission which is set to happen in 2030. “It basically means that the astronauts will go to Mars and come back,” Josan says. “It will likey take nine months to reach there, three months to stay there, and then another nine months to return. So it’s a 21-month mission in total.” More than nervous, Josan says her family is very excited about her getting the chance to go to Mars.

Currently based in Huntsville, Alabama where she is pursuing an integrated degree of master and Ph.D in space science from the University of Alabama, Josan was born in Kurukshetra, Haryana, India, and travelled to many parts of the sub-continent for her schooling. “Kalpana Chawla [who first flew on the Space Shuttle in 1997] was my inspiration for as long as I can remember.”

            Kalpana Chawla 
Photo Credit: NASA

Because of Chawla, Josan wanted to become an astronaut and study space technology. She did her bachelor's degree in aeronautical and aerospace from Sathyabama University in Chennai. “When I was in the second year of my bachelor’s, I proposed my research on a Mars Mission to NASA and it was selected for an international conference at the ASSE (American Society of Safety Engineers), so I was invited to give an oral presentation in Orlando at the Kennedy Space Center, where along with getting selected for a Mars mission program, I got the best presentation award.”  

Josan did her training and internship at the Kennedy Space Center and then went back to India to continue her degree. “I was called by NASA for the second phase of the competition where five students were selected among thousands of applications to work on this mission. After going through many selection rounds and training I finally started working with the Marshal Space Flight Center at NASA.” In 2013, Josan was named by NASA in collaboration with ISEI (International Space Education Institute) as an International Space Ambassador.

            Jasleen with Astronaut and physicist John M. Grunsfeld.
Photo Credit: NASA

Josan agrees that there isn’t much awareness about aeronautics in India. “It’s true that there isn’t much awareness and education especially in northern India about aerospace. In fact, my parents suggested I do an engineering degree in electronics or telecommunications (like her brother who she adores and considers her mentor). They didn’t want me to take a risk and get into something that doesn’t have much scope.” Josan’s grandfather was an ex-army man; her dad is an agriculturist and businessman and her mother (whom she talks to every morning without fail no matter where she is), runs an educational institute. “I actually used to skip my classes to go to the library to read about space fields.

Finally after a year I just decided to drop the engineering courses altogether as I couldn’t continue on with something in which I had no interest.” While she is encouraged by the progress of the ISO (Indian Space Organization) in the past few years, she’s hoping to see a lot more advancements in the near future. For her part, Josan is trying to raise aerospace awareness in India: “I try my best to conduct various classroom projects, online seminars and guest lectures to help people from India get more education and interest about aeronautic science and technology.”

           Jasleen Josan's official astronaut portrait.
Photo Credit: NASA


In December, Josan will be conducting ‘Let’s MAP 2030’ — a Map Mars awareness program directed at youths. She encourages people to connect to her on her Facebook page —  Astronaut Jasleen — where she’ll be uploading details to the event soon. “My goal isn’t just to be an astronaut, but to contribute to space technology as a whole and help future generations.”
While her spare time is very limited, Josan loves poetry and reading books. “Sometimes on weekends I go to a rehabilitation centre to spend time with the elderly and learn about their experiences and adversities. I love hearing how in every story there are silver linings.” And even her personal dreams tread along outer space.

Josan reveals that she has a secret Bollywood aspiration on her bucket list: “I want to work on a biography on Kalpana Chawla whereby I play her in a film,” she admits. “We have seen many true-story based films where the actors themselves have connections to the real-life stories. How amazing would it be to see someone acting in a film who is going to space in the future? I’m sure many Indian girls would get a lot of inspiration from it.”  

But what happens if she falls in love, gets married and then happens to get pregnant at the time of the mission? After all, a lot can happen between now and 2030. “No comment!” she laughs. “My focus has to primarily be the mission. My main passion is the progression of humanity — it propels me forward everyday.”

Main Image Photo Credit: The Daily Beast

Wendy Kaur


Wendy Kaur is a fashion, beauty and lifestyle writer and journalist who specializes on covering luxury brands, notable names in historical and high jewellery, and profiles on acclaimed personalities.  Her portfolio includes the Robb Report, FASHION, NUVO, Flaunt,<...


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