An Edmonton-area physician with a background in space studies is headed off on an international underwater mission for scientific research.

Dr. Shawna Pandya was selected as part of a five-member team of scientists that will take part in the NEPTUNE research mission at the Jules Undersea Lodge (JUL) in Key Largo, Fla.

“My background has been in space exploration, but there’s actually a lot of overlap when we’re talking about ocean exploration and space exploration,” said Pandya.

“Both are considered extreme environments.”

NEPTUNE stands for Nautical Experiments in Physiology, Technology & Underwater Exploration. The mission, which is set to take place from Oct. 3-8, will see the scientists stay underwater for five days, not only to study the effects on the human body, but also to test out several new technologies.

Pandya will be serving as the crew’s medical, health and safety officer.

“The advantage of being in this extreme environment is that it’s isolated, it’s confined, kind of like being up in a spaceship,” said Pandya.

The JUL facility is located just over six metres underwater and allows adventurous tourists to visit, but only for up to 24 hours.

The crew will spend five days in an undersea lodge off the Florida Keys.

Credit: Jules’ Undersea Lodge

The crew has also partnered with several companies to test out a portable vital sign sensor, a 3D-printed inhalation device and a Canadian-made virtual reality radiology suite.

“Our hope is, maybe what we learn from this mission could potentially inform long-duration human space flight to destinations like the moon or Mars,” said Pandya.

The five-person team has been training for the mission over the past year.

The other team members include Canadian engineer Doug Campbell, American biomedical researcher Dr. Joseph Dituri, Paul Baken — a logistics co-ordinator and former U.S. Army officer — and American imaging scientist Kyle Foster.

Pandya said she hopes her previous training and experience have prepared her.

“My background is in space and space medicine, so I’ve been a part of different projects testing space suits in zero-gravity [conditions],” said Pandya.

“I’ve done previous research at the European Astronaut Centre at NASA, and most recently I was lucky enough to do a dive medicine course at Aquarius Reef Base.”

Dr. Shawna Pandya has been training for the NEPTUNE mission.

Courtesy: Shawna Pandya

The longest time Pandya has spent underwater before the upcoming mission has been 18 hours. The NEPTUNE mission will see the group stay underwater for 120 hours.

The crew has also planned some outreach activities during the mission, including a Skype call with students at École Champs Vallée in Beaumont, Alta.

WATCH BELOW: She’s a former model, an activist and neuroscientist. Now, at just 31 years old, Shawna Pandya is also a medical doctor and citizen science astronaut. Lesley MacDonald has more on the May 2016 Woman of Vision.






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