Sharjah resident wins three international recognitions for space research

At 23, Indian expat Sahith Reddy Madara is dreaming big - and encouraging other youngsters along the way


Karen Ann Monsy

Published: Mon 21 Sep 2020, 1:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 25 Sep 2020, 9:04 AM

Last month, Indian aerospace engineer Sahith Reddy Madara received a surprise email - and "nearly fell off" his chair. He'd just been elected as a Fellow of Britain's Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), one of the most prestigious astronomical societies in the world. The fellowship has, in the past, been mostly conferred upon PhD-level professionals. At 23, Sahith - a B. Tech graduate - is one of the youngest UAE-based researchers to receive the honour.
In little more than a month, however, the Sharjah resident has also gone on to bag two more international awards. He was named in the Mars Generation 24 under 24 Award for leaders and innovators in STEAM and Space - the first time for any UAE resident - and the '20 Under 35' list by Space & Satellite Professionals International (SSPI) that recognises young professionals who are expected to have a "profound impact" on the industry in the future.
The youngster is currently employed at Sharjah Academy for Astronomy, Space Sciences and Technology (SAASST), where he is working on the development of Sharjah's 1st 3U Astronomical Cube-Satellite. Ironically, he didn't always think there was a career in space waiting for him. "I used to keep this little notebook where I wrote down things I wanted to achieve," he says. "At the bottom of the list, there was this line: Go and work for a space agency. It seemed completely out of reach, as I couldn't see the link between what I was doing and where I wanted to be."
But space and astronomy were two great loves for Sahith, even as a child. "I grew up reading science fiction and was inspired by APJ Abdul Kalam and Carl Sagan. I just naively thought that it could only be a hobby, not a real job. that the space industry was just for astronauts, rocket scientists and engineers - and none of those roles really appealed to me."
Eventually, he learnt that thinking about "the next 40 steps" doesn't help - one only needs to start with the first five. So, that's what he did. Sahith started attending conferences and networking events, and speaking at non-government organisations. He landed a paid internship, before finally securing a research job at SAASST. He has since published 28 research and review papers in various international peer-reviewed journals and won numerous awards. The recent three are only additional feathers to his cap.
A big believer in following one's passion, Sahith recalls how poor Internet connectivity at home used to hinder him from completing university assignments - but "never deterred" him from fulfilling his childhood dreams. "I would often find myself on the staircase near my neighbour's apartment, in the sweltering humidity of UAE, to finish my coursework and research," he says. "But I have been chasing my passion with a fire in my belly and I believe that if you truly enjoy what you're doing, achieving goals becomes smooth sailing from thereon."
Then and now, Sahith says something he regularly does is plan a roadmap. "I look at the careers of mentors and role models in the space industry and ask myself what I would need to do to get there. Do I need a masters or PhD? Do I need management experience? How would I get the technical expertise required? There's never going to be one person whose entire career you can follow exactly, but it's helpful to look at what aspects might work for you."
Committed to inspiring passion for space in the next generation, he is constantly encouraging youngsters to broaden their horizons. "There is this misconception that space is only for those who are studying space engineering," he says. "But if you want to build a rocket, you need mathematicians, physicians, lawyers (in case of failures!), and even journalists to spread the word. That's why I always say don't be afraid to forge your own path - because the job you end up in might not even exist yet. When I graduated from university, SAASST had only just been founded!"
Living in the UAE at a time when it has become the first Arab nation to launch an interplanetary exploration means the future of space looks big and bright, with the potential to spawn dreams formerly unimaginable. For Sahith, that involves a potential "off-world economy whereby heavy manufacturing is done off Earth". Clearly, to his mind, 'impossible' is but a word written in the sand. "Space has the potential to make life on Earth so much better," says Sahith. "I'm excited to see where things go."

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