Commanding a 14-day simulated mission to and from an asteroid at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Anima Patil-Sabale, ’10 MS Aerospace Engineering, experienced the isolation and confinement of deep-space travel. To further test her mettle, she’s endured high gravity forces in aerobatic aircraft and hypoxia in a hyperbaric chamber during a five-day training course at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Florida. In 2017, as a Citizen-Scientist Astronaut, she’ll conduct spacesuit research during a Mars mission simulation through Project PHEnOM (Physiological, Health and Environmental Observations in Microgravity), one of the first commercial human spaceflight research programs.
“This (training) is basically to make us astronaut-ready,” she explains. “When commercial space flights start happening, perhaps in 2018, commercially trained astronauts will be needed. We will be first in line and eligible to fly on those commercial space flights.”
The astronaut aspirant and 42-year-old mother of two currently works as a software and aerospace engineer in the Intelligent Systems Division of NASA Ames Research Center. She’s dreamed of spaceflight since, at age seven, she came across a book featuring photos of U.S. and Russian astronauts in her native Maharashtra, India. When myopia dashed her hopes of joining India’s fighter pilot program, she earned a master’s degree in computer applications, got married and moved to Mumbai to work as a software engineer. She and her husband, Dinesh, came to the U.S. on H1B visas in 2000 and have since become U.S. citizens.
In her new home in California, the proximity to Moffett Field and a fascination with Space Shuttle launches rekindled her interest in space flight. Working full time as a computer engineer and raising a young son, Patil-Sabale decided to pursue a second graduate degree in aerospace engineering. In 2012, NASA hired her to work on the Kepler Mission.
Patil-Sabale’s current goal: acceptance in NASA’s Astronaut Selection Program. As one of 18,300 applicants, she realizes the odds are long that she’ll be selected and that her age is a factor. “It’s a tough dream to dream, but I will know that I tried,” she says. She shares her story on her website (animapatilsabale.com) and Facebook page (facebook.com/animpatilsabale) to encourage other dreamers to dream big. “Whether or not I succeed,” she says, “somewhere someone who has a dream and cannot figure out how to pursue it will find inspiration and guidance from my story.”