Srajan Singh's space odyssey

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The sky is no longer the limit for NASA International Space Camp winner

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Space is one of the few things that makes us wonder and dream as both children and adults. The moon and the sun are so intangible; yet so tangible. The mystery of the night sky, the wondrous event of a shooting star, and the desire to experience weightlessness – every one of us is fascinated by these thoughts, and yet such an incredibly small number of people have dared to dream of taking them any further. Srajan Singh is one of those few. Recently, the Year 11 student from Scone Grammar School was one of just two students in Australia selected for a prestigious space camp conducted by NASA at the U.S. Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama this month, and he hopes it is just the start of a bigger dream.

The NASA International Space Camp was established in 1990, and invites two students and one educator from 35 countries around the world to represent their country and participate in a comprehensive education program exposing the students to various demonstrations, simulations, activities and projects at the Space Centre in Huntsville. The camp is said to be both academically and physically challenging, with students given a taste of the intense training astronauts go through.

Srajan has grown up in towns such as Parkes and Narrabri, and it’s clear his outback NSW lifestyle has had a big part to play in his interest in space. “Both of [Parkes and Narrabri] have large radio telescopes. And especially when I was in Narrabri, we had friends who worked as astrophysicists for CSIRO. So there were times when they would take us to have a look around the main control for the array and deep in the belly of the telescope itself. As a 7 year old at the time – its definitely a motivator!”

More recently, Srajan has taken a particular interest in his science and maths subjects at school – a must-have for any budding NASA astronaut. He not only achieved a result in the top band of HSC Extension 1 Maths in year 10, but will be taking on the HSC Extension 2 Exam this year – in year 11. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “I really love music as well and it’s a huge passion of mine. I enjoy reading up on and watching documentaries about space; but more generally science and new discoveries. Recently I’ve gotten into a new series of books and documentaries called the Fabric of the Cosmos – it’s worth looking up!” Given astronauts are required to be incredibly fit, it’s a good thing Srajan loves his sport, too – including tennis, cricket, swimming, archery and hockey. He credits his school for providing the support he needed to manage his busy schedule.

Srajan applied for the exciting camp through the Australian Scholarships Group, which held a competition for its students aged 16-18 years old. After considering their academic results, achievements, career aspirations, social and community participants, the ASG decided on two students – Srajan and Aimee Parsons from Nowra Christian School, NSW – to travel with the winner of its National Excellence in Teaching Awards (NEiTA) 2013 International Space Camp Award, Sophie Fenton of Ballarat Grammar in Victoria.  ASG CEO John Velegrinis said of the pair: “Srajan and Aimee both have a passion and great interest in space. They have achieved exceptional academic results and are both involved in a number of extra-curricular activities. I know they will be great ambassadors for Australia and ASG at the Space Camp, and we wish them all the best.”

At the camp, Srajan will spend a week going through all kinds of experiences that only a lucky few have been able to enjoy – including the same training undergone by the NASA astronauts who Srajan wants to join some day. Srajan looks forward to flying the space shuttle simulator, having a go at the gravity machine, and the scuba tank which replicates working in micro-gravitational situations. “All of that is going to be just fantastic and I’m really looking forward to it.”

This is just the first step in what Srajan hopes will be the start of a journey towards realising a childhood dream, but he knows it’s a tough road ahead. Although NASA is associated with space exploration more than anything else, there are of course only very few astronauts in the organisation – and Srajan is determined to be part of the latter group.

He hopes that his time at the Space Camp will not only be enjoyable, but lead to important connections and experience in reaching his goal. “My dream really has been to see the Earth from space and to know that I’m actually playing a part in our progress to a new future. The International Space Station is just a way for me to achieve that goal. To reach there, I’ll have to achieve some sort of science degree and then apply to NASA. Having been to the International Space Camp will certainly increase my chances of being accepted. Once in NASA, who knows, maybe my calling will be as a ground scientist; but nothing beats the ISS – it’s a whole different ball game.”

His parents, Anuradha Singh and Dr Sanjay Verma, are naturally very proud and supportive of Srajan’s achievements. Anuradha took the phone call that carried the great news, and Srajan labels it as “One of the happiest moments in my life! My parents would have loved to come, but the centre has strict rules that no one other than the delegates of the 35 invited countries can come in – so unfortunately they can’t.”

Srajan’s favourite moment in space exploration history is the launch of the space probe Pioneer 10, which was the first man-made object to reach escape velocity from the solar system, taking it past the asteroid belt, and becoming, as Srajan puts it, “Our beacon to the rest of the universe, to let everyone know we’re here too!”

To any students unsure about what their future holds, Srajan’s advice is simple. “Trying to balance hobbies and studies is hard, but it’s doable. My advice is do what you’ll enjoy and put your heart into it. Then the sky is the limit!”