PETALING JAYA: Space, the final frontier, has held a fascination for Vanmitha Athimoolam (pix) for some time now.
It was the 2005 science fiction movie Zathura: A Space Adventure that she watched at the age of 10 that sparked her interest. A chance to look through a telescope a year later gave life to a desire to reach for the stars.
Now at 20, she has finally got her chance. Vanmitha has been picked as the Malaysian representative in the Career Astronaut Competition 2020.
The competition offers STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and art-focused individuals from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to experience space training, potential space travel and opportunities for space related careers.
As Vanmitha stands at the threshold of the adventure of a lifetime, she cannot help but recall how she had enjoyed watching rocket-launching events on TV since she was a child.
“I would keep myself up to date with the latest news on space related matters,” she told theSun.
“My passions range from stargazing to watching eclipses. I love everything about space for the mystery it holds.”
Among her heroes are A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the aerospace scientist who eventually became the 11th president of India, Program Angkasawan Malaysia finalist Dr Vanajah Siva and Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, who became the first Malaysian in space.
However, pursuing her interest have not always been easy.
“There were many naysayers who continuously tried to discourage me.”
She said some even told her she was unfit for a job of this nature because of her physical appearance. “I was indirectly told to give up my dream and settle for less,” she said.
Her attempts to be part of space related international programmes were rejected, drawing laughter and sneers from relatives. However, Vanmitha was undeterred. She continued to live her dream, sticking by her motto, “life is to live the dream that you desire to achieve”.
She set herself a goal and worked to achieve it. “I scored nine As in my PT3 exams and 10 As in SPM and was accepted for a matriculation programme and eventually a place in the engineering faculty at Universiti Sains Malaysia,” she said.
She also joined various interest groups such as the Malaysia Space Initiative, where she eventually made it as a committee member.
At international level, Vanmitha participated in the 71st International Astronautical Congress 2020, the world’s largest space conference.
She also has a few accomplishments under her belt. One is an engagement with world leaders in the international space community.
Despite the naysayers among friends and some relatives, her family stood by her, and encouraged her to pursue her dream.
A lot of encouragement also came from her lecturer Dr Norilmi Amilia Ismail and Brelveenraj Kaur from Malaysia’s National Point of Contact for Space Generation Advisory Council.
Like all space enthusiasts, Vanmitha hopes to become a full-fledged astronaut some day “so I can actually reach for the stars”.
She also has a piece of advice for everyone who dares to dream big. “Always set goals in life. The sky is literally the limit, so work towards achieving what you desire.”