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Srajan is a UNSW medical student… and a trained astronaut!

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5 August 2016
Image - Srajan is a UNSW medical student… and a trained astronaut!

Second year rural medical student Srajan Singh is a muso, medical student – and a trained astronaut. Yes you heard that right. In Year 11 Srajan was selected as one of an elite, multi-national squad of high school students to take part in ‘International Space Camp’ in Alabama, USA. The Narrabri local sat down to tell us about his amazing adventures at Space Camp, and how he is considering a career as a professional astronaut in the future:

Where did you grow up?

Growing up my family moved from place to place for my parents’ work – more than 12 times since I was born! I’ve lived in places such as Lithgow, Gosford, Tamworth, Parkes and Condobolin, but most of my upbringing was in Narrabri, and right now my family live in Muswellbrook.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience in the US training as an astronaut, and how you got involved in this?

NASA put out a call for two people from a long list of participating countries to be brought to the US Space and Rocket Centre, Huntsville Alabama, and to participate in the ‘International Space Camp’.  I saw the application form on the final due date, and filled it out, expecting that nothing at all would come of it.

Golly was I wrong!

The purpose was to train members of these countries through the Advanced Space Program – a challenging but incredible array of simulators, tests, lectures and teamwork scenarios.

This included: scuba diving in the Underwater Astronaut Trainer (UAT) to work in a weightless environment; launching, flying, docking and then eventually landing the rocket/space shuttle in the shockingly realistic simulator; running scientific experiments in the International Space Station; running a mission as Mission Control; and repairing a satellite strapped to the CanadArm of the shuttle during an EVA – and then there was the Air Force training portion of the experience, such as piloting the F-22 Raptor simulator in a full-on dogfight, the military style training, and so much more!

At the end of this, I was trained as a Mission Specialist and Flight Commander, and graduated from the Advanced Space Academy.

What was the most exciting part of this experience?

It’s really hard to pick a single most exciting experience, but there were a few amazing things that I’ll never forget.

The Extended Duration Mission, where the team had to work together on three fronts: Mission Control (possibly the most stressful job I’ve ever had to do, kudos to them!); the Space Shuttle itself; and the International Space Station.

The weather conditions in the simulators were more or less a hurricane, the Mission Control had a tornado warning so we had to evacuate, the ISS had an explosion and subsequent inferno of flames in the main lab, and almost anything else that could go wrong did go wrong.

But somehow or another, we managed to complete the mission in record time!

Another thing I’ll never forget are all the phenomenal people I met! My squad ‘Team Goddard’ were just incredible and interesting people, and the ties we had together is a memory I’ll treasure for a lifetime.

Everything from crying with laughter when the miniature two-stage rocket we had so lovingly built, never left the ground, and turned instead into a small bomb – thoroughly vaporising the little egg passenger inside: sweet talking the cafeteria staff into giving us extra yummies: re-enacting the ‘Thriller’ dance underwater in the UAT; crashing our simulated shuttle into a tree while instinctively trying to avoid a pigeon on the runway; the supportive cheers to help a member of our squad with a fear of heights jump from 20 metres up and grab a rope swinging to the next platform as part of the military training; and the late nights failing miserably to speak Flemish, much to the amusement of our Belgian delegate!

Finally, at the end of this gruelling week of blood, sweat, tears and laughter, standing in our flight-suits at attention in the shadow of one of the original Saturn-5 rockets, and having our wings ceremonially ‘flipped’ by the Astronaut Don Thomas himself for our graduation was definitely a memory we will all treasure.

Did training as an astronaut play a part in inspiring you to study medicine?

I had always wanted to study medicine ever since I was small (though my Mum swears I wanted to be a firefighting police officer for part of primary school). So when I realised that if I wanted to continue a career in NASA I would need a PhD in a related field anyway, it only fuelled the desire to become a doctor. Whether I decide to take the route into NASA or be a doctor, it will be a dream career for me!

What else inspired you to study medicine?

It’s always a little hard to talk about inspiration, and I’m not entirely sure what my inspiration was so early in my childhood. But I know that I became more and more inspired seeing my grandfather, who was a doctor himself in rural India, look after the poor with such care for no money at all. Also the care I received when I myself became very ill with Scarlet Fever, as well as a variety of other factors. Soon it became all I ever wanted to be!

Why are you drawn to experiences like astronaut training and joining the army reservists?

I’ve never liked the idea of sitting around and doing nothing. I always need something to work on, play, build, read and create in order to keep myself physically and mentally busy. I enjoy a good hard challenge.

Things like a career in medicine draw me in, knowing the hard work involved, and how much I can help people when they need it most.

I believe it’s important to remember that you can have exciting adventures in your life as long as you’re willing to push past the obstacles. I’ve always been a bit out there, trying things people don’t usually consider.

So when I went through the thrill of astronaut training, I think it clicked that there is still so much out there that I can do and help in. So I started looking at maybe a career in the Army or Air Force – initially as joining after my degree as a medical officer, but now also at how I can incorporate this into my daily life, which brought me to the idea of the reserves. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of a military lifestyle; perhaps it’s because I was such a fan of the Rambo movies as a kid!

Do you want to integrate these skills into your future career? What would be your dream job in the future?

The best case scenario would be to integrate all these different parts of my life together. I’ll decide for sure once I’ve graduated, but there are plenty of options. From there I can either go through the military as a medical officer, I could then choose to go to NASA via the military route, or go as a PhD in some aspect of medicine, or perhaps even just work as a doctor. All the options are fantastic, and I look forward to which ever one I decide to go for!

Would you consider studying in a rural practice in the future?

I’ve been raised in rural areas all my life, and I would only ever consider working in the country in the future! Though I admit the city has its perks, my real home is back in the bush.

What are some of your other hobbies and passions?

Another major passion of mine is music. I play many instruments, but my one true love is the guitar! I used to be in a band, playing everything from classic 60’s rock, jazz, blues, folk and almost anything we liked the sound of!

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Student