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Indian American scientist hopes to be 1st woman to jump from stratosphere

An Indian-American scientist is hoping to become the first woman to skydive from the stratosphere at an altitude of 42.5 km above the Earth, and shatter four records.

Swati Varshney is one of the three candidates selected by the Hera Project of Rising United that seeks to empower women in science and technology, the organisation has announced.

If she makes it to the skydive in 2025, Hera Project expects her to break four current records: The free fall record by 1.1 km from the highest altitude, endure the longest free fall time, break the sound barrier unaided by 264 kph, and the highest crewed balloon flight by over 1 km.

“At Rising United, we’re embarking on a historic journey, shattering records and ceilings to advance women’s equality and inspire young women’s interest in STEAM education,” the organisation said.

Varshney has a PhD in materials science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has made over 1,200 jumps with a speciality in vertical freefall, according to Space.com.

Billed as the “First Female Mission to the Edge of Space”, the project seeks to have minority women smash the records, and the other two contenders are of Latino descent, Eliana Rodriquez and Diana Valerin Jimenez.

The project will include educational programmes for schools to increase interest in science and technology among girls, especially from minority groups.

Varshney told Space.com that for her skydiving “is a lot more similar to my scientific training than I ever thought it would have been in the first place. It was just another avenue for me to pursue this goal of lifelong learning”.

Varshney, who has spent a decade skydiving, told the media outlet: “My academic progression and my career trajectory has been really intertwined with skydiving as it went along. So I started skydiving.”

She tried tandem jumping and found it such a “blast”, that she took it up as a hobby.

“I really just wanted something that was totally different, and as a release to — this is a really cliche way to say it —  cut away right from what I was doing in my day-to-day life,” she told Space.com.

“It became this never-ending journey of another pursuit of knowledge that went alongside my academic career,” she added.

The stratosphere is from about 6 km to 50 km above the Earth where it gives way to the mesosphere

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