Please tell us about yourself

At the International Space University in France, the eyes of world-class astronomers and researchers were glued to the TV screen on Monday. They were watching the movements of Chandrayaan 2 (Chandrayaan 2) of India on the screen. Nitya Pandey’s face was the most glowing face with it.

Nitya, who received a scholarship after MSc in Astrophysics, said that after doing MSc with Astrophysics, she continued studying astronomy. Meanwhile, she was selected for the Kalpana Chawla scholarship

Nitya is one of the four meritorious scholars of India who are staying in this university and doing 65 days fellowship. Nitya of Bastar’s tribal dominated Kondagaon district has been selected and reached France this year under Kalpana Chawla Scholarship program. Under this, 14 lakh rupees were received. The fellowship program will be completed on August 24. After that she wants to stay there and do PhD .

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

I’m Nitya Pandey, Space and Astronomy enthusiast, eager to mushroom the knowledge of the outer world among mankind. I have been born and raised in Kachora (a very small village near Maoist infested district of Bastar (CG)), currently living at Kondagaon with my family, which is a small town in the south Chhattisgarh. Apart from my parents, I have one younger sister and brother.

The quotes mentioned at the start of this write-up were mine. I was the student of 4th class and once in a night lying down on the cot at the courtyard along with my grandmother and was dreaming to touch the Moon. I remember very well, it was 1st February 2005, the second death anniversary of Kalpana Chawla (first Indo-American astronaut) when my class teacher Mrs. Chabila Sethiya told us about her life and career. After returning home, immediately I went to my father and asked him about space and related fields. He told me about Neil Armstrong and his team as well as about NASA and ISRO. My father told me, beyond this azure there is another captivating world where astronauts are the travelers of that mysterious space. The day was the turning point of my life, and with a new zeal, I resolute to venture to space someday.

With my utmost delight, I would like to say that, I have been selected for the Space Studies Program [1] at International Space University, France. I consider myself truly honored as this esteemed institute has diligently pondered upon the qualification, experience, and passion of the applicants among many before finalizing their list and choosing me. This is one of the best course for a Space Enthusiast, where its participants come from various working professionals from myriad backgrounds from across the whole world. From the past three years, under the Kalpana Chawla project for Innovation, Entrepreneurism and Space Studies, ISU, France provides partial funding for Indian nationals to attend Space Studies Program. This year 4 women are awarded by this prestigious Kalpana Chawla Scholarship [2] from all over India, and I am fortunate to be one among them.

What did you study?

Talking about my educational background, I have always been motivated by some ingrained competitiveness, to gather more knowledge and to do the best in whatever I do. Throughout my academic life, I have consistently been among the top-ranked students in the class. For Higher Secondary School my intentions were boosted me to choose Mathematics and Physics as majors. Further, my passion for Mathematics and Physics coupled with the desire to become a part of the new revolution in science. I pursued this ardor through basic science and the following suit, I enrolled for an undergraduate program (B.Sc.- Bachelor of Science) in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics as my major subjects in Government Gundadhur Science College, Kondagaon. In B.Sc., I realized my interest was bent towards subject experiments and often spent my spare time in the laboratory repeating those experiments. The habit of performing experiments later turned into an interest to pursue research career ahead, as I wanted to see the laws of Physics working in the real world. My zeal kept mounting stronger with time. Adhering to it, I joined the Master program in  Physics (M.Sc. – Master of Science) at SOS in Physics and Astrophysics, Pt. Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur (CG). Here I got an opportunity to specialize in Astronomy and Astrophysics. Learning these subjects during master’s aroused deep interest and filled me with confidence to move ahead in Astronomy and Space Studies. I strived hard and my passion drove my motivation to excel in examination and assignments and scored highest in most of the subjects, not to mention, especially in Astronomy. I secured 6th rank in the master program in University and 1st rank in Astronomy and Astrophysics branch, with the highest score of 99 out of 100.

Tell us about your career path

My high grades during the first year of Master and a project synopsis eventually helped me to get a renowned fellowship of India the “Summer Research Fellowship 2017”. I spent the summer of 2017 at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India, working with microscopes. Meanwhile, after a few months, I got a chance to participate in the professional training school for astronomers at Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES),  Nainital, India. My master’s final year dissertation work was also on Astronomy as well, carried out under the guidance of Dr. Sourabh, Scientist “D” at Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES), Nainital, India. Here I worked on the project of the “Photometric study of Narrow Lines Seyfert1 Galaxy”.

What were the challenges you faced?

I am from a very small town in India where my father works as a teacher in a government school. He has the responsibility to raise his three children and thus have limited financial options and often faces economic hardships. Consequently, thinking about any program abroad seems to be a way too ambitious plan for me. In fact, even after securing the respectable scholarship, initially, my ISU dream was in jeopardy as it was quite stressful for my parents to arrange even the balance funds. However, he somehow managed the initial deposit amount of 1000 Euros by means of utilizing little savings and borrowing. I was in dilemma to choose between my family considerations and my desire to be a space scientist.

The course starts from June 22nd and ends on August 24th, 2019 in Strasbourg, France.