(September 23, 2021) Priya Patel, a 25-year-old space scientist based in London, has set up an NGO to give wings to the space dreams of Indian students of modest means. The Sharda Foundation, which has been named after Patel’s grandmother will offer support to Indian students from low socio-economic strata that want to pursue space-related studies.
The aim of the Foundation is to bring talented and aspiring Indian school students to the facilities of an overseas space agency like NASA to provide them exposure and allow them to experience space culture in various countries.
Born in Gujarat’s Kadi town, Patel did her schooling in Gandhinagar before moving to London in 2005 where she earned her Bachelors in Physics from Imperial College London. She then did her Masters in Space Science Engineering from University College London in 2017 and is now doing her PhD from the same university in coordination with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“I want to bring resources to my home country where there is ample talent and passion for space exploration,” she told TOI. “My parents gave me these opportunities through the sacrifices they made as they moved out of India. I was fortunate 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.”
Patel herself has worked on some key interplanetary missions with major space agencies like NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). She is currently working on collecting atmospheric data from NASA’s Perseverance Rover, which landed on Mars in February 2021. She has also worked at the ESA as a systems engineer on an upcoming gravitational waves detecting mission called Laser Interferometry Space Antenna (LISA). Patel is also a passionate STEM advocate and is part of the Rocket Women team, which empowers Indians, especially girls, to choose a STEM career.