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Life on Mars
By Carmelle Druckniak '80

Nisha Bhatia '99 recently merged her twin interests in space science and medicine while working on a NASA research project examining adaptation to life on Mars. Bhatia was one of a small group of students around the nation chosen to participate in NASA's Astrobiology Academy in San Francisco. While working on the Mars Gravity Simulator, Bhatia and her team studied the bio-mechanics of walking on the surface of the red planet as well as perceptual adaptation to an environment with gravity one-third that of Earth's.

"I've wanted to be a doctor since I was four years old," she says. "This NASA astrobiology experience has opened up a new field of medical research for me."

Her NASA experience has also given her life skills, she believes. "I've learned about the real-world research environment, and the amount of patience, energy and compromise required to work as a team with scientists from vastly different fields," she says."In astrobiology, it's not uncommon to find physicists, biologists, chemists and engineers all working together."

Bhatia continues to correspond with her 14 fellow student researchers. "We all have different personalities, come from different parts of the country, but we all came together, forming a special kind of family by the end of our 10 weeks," she says.

She plans to continue a group research project on the effects of motion sickness and weightlessness. She and the other academy members hope to catch a flight on NASA's KC-135 research plane, whose parabolic flight allows passengers to experience weightlessness. It's dubbed the "Vomit Comet," for obvious reasons."Yes, I'm expecting to throw up," Bhatia says with a smile, "but it's all in the name of science."

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