Edmonton-area doctor with passion for space medicine returns from Mars simulation mission

Shawna Pandya hasn’t been to Mars, but she’s been closer than most.

The physician, who grew up in Sherwood Park and earned two degrees at the University of Alberta, returned to Canada this week after a two-week stint at the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah.

“If you can imagine, it’s a simulated Mars habitat in the middle of the Utah desert, so you’re surrounded by red, red, red as far as the eye can see,” she said Wednesday in an interview on CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.

“It really seems like you’re on Mars.”

The research station simulates life on Mars so researchers can study the science needed for human exploration of the planet.

Pandya, 33, is part of two organizations that train citizen-scientists: Project PoSSUM, which studies clouds in the upper atmosphere, and the PHEnOM Project, which researches microgravity. Her Utah mission was conducted for the PHEnOM Project. 

Min speaks to Citizen Astronaut Shawna Pandya about her recent Mars simulation in Utah. 5:28

Pandya and her fellow crew members donned space suits, conducted research and watered produce in a greenhouse.

In a Facebook post earlier this month, she wrote that the crew showered every other day in order to conserve water, relying on wet wipes, dry shampoo and leave-in conditioners.

She compared the experience to participating on the reality shows Survivor or Big Brother.

“It’s not always a walk in the park, but it really is character-building and you walk away with a lot of lessons at the end of the rotation,” she said.

Pandya told CBC News she would definitely go to Mars if the right opportunity presented itself.

For now, she’s finishing up her residency in enhanced surgical skills in Prince Albert, Sask.

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