Saturday, July 31, 2004

Over the moon

Kanwal Singh on the feat accomplished by Aaina Jain and her team, which won the Space Settlement Design Contest in the USA.

Aaina Jain and her team members with astronaut Sandra Magus
Aaina Jain (second from left) and her team members with astronaut Sandra Magus (centre)

Space has always held her interest. On a visit to NASA at the impressionable age of four, she was fascinated by the satellites and did not want to come out of the complex. When she was in class sixth, she went to the Nainital Observatory and asked a number of questions from the in charge there. Today this vibrant youngster, who wants to become an electronics engineer and ultimately join NASA, has made India proud. Aaina Jain was the creative director of the team that won the Space Settlement Design Contest, held at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, USA. The 43-hour-long contest, which began on July 14, was organised by the American Institute of Aeronautical and Astronautics Design. Besides Aaina, the 18-member Indian team comprised three other girls Manpreet, Jyotika and Aditi, four team advisers from Thapar Institute of Engineering Technology (TIET), Patiala, namely Abhishek Aggarwal, Varun, Ankit and Prof Manik Kumar and a few Class XII students of Budha Dal School, Patiala. The qualifying age for the contest was 18 years.

Twentysix teams from all over the world had earlier participated in the contest held at the Kennedy Space Centre. Only eight teams were selected for the final round. The rest of the seven teams that got selected were from the USA.

Before leaving for the US, Aaina Jain, a second year student of B.Tech at TIET, had dreamily said, "The feeling is yet to sink in. We entered the competition by submitting our projects online. The next thing we knew was that we got the call that we had been selected for the final round to be held in NASA itself."

The project, called ‘Bellavistate,’ looked at the year 2030 and involved planning a city on the moon. This city was planned with six residential and six agricultural complexes and one commercial complex complete with underground tunnels for communication. Water was provided with the moon’s polar melted ice.

At Bangalore during the joint India-US Space Convention June 2004, the deputy Chief of NASA, Frederick. D. Greogory, pinned the badges of honour on us. Meeting Kalpna Chawla’s husband J.P. Harrison and astronaut Sandra Magus was inspiring for the young member of the team. "The US Ambassador shook hands with us and told us that on our trip, the US government would look after our boarding and lodging from the Kennedy airport onwards. This is the first time in the 11 years that an Indian team has been selected." The Punjab Government has funded 50 per cent of their trip and the remaining has been sponsored by the Central Government. Few private companies also came forward to sponsor their dresses and uniforms. They have to make a plan and model to build a City on Moon in continuous 43 hours at NASA as their competition project.

Aaina, a product of the local Sacred Heart School, had scored 93 per cent in Class X. Her elated mother Anupam Jain beams at her achievement. "Aaina was always very focused in whatever she did. She made friends with people older to her usually and always wanted to do something different. "When the US Ambassador shook hands with her, she asked him ‘How did you come to this position.?’ He was very impressed by her and introduced her to his wife.

Manpreet’s parents Rajinder Kaur and Jaspal Singh too are overjoyed with their daughter’s achievement. Manpreet topped the 10th and 12th class at Budha Dal School. Rajinder says, "My daughter was always fascinated by NASA and often talked about Kalpana Chawla as her ideal. She handled automation in the project."

Another team member Sahil Arora’s father Navin Arora expressed his excitement thus: " Aaina has been a great help to Sahil and together all the team members have come out with such a wonderful project. Sahil’s first words to me on winning were ‘Papa, my Ferrari is not far away’."