How a 19-year old's dream to chase stars is helping fuel other kids' hopes

One of the astronomy labs set up by Mishra and his team from Spark Astronomy
If you’ve the passion to do something big, you’ll pursue it with all your might. Nineteen year old Aryan Mishra believes in this wholeheartedly. Son of a newspaper vendor, Mishra has achieved what many at his age might not dare to — From discovering an asteroid at 14 to setting up his venture at 18, and also being a TEDX speaker. His love for the cosmos began in class 5. Often gazing at the night sky, he’d be keen to know in depth about the tiny white shining objects and beyond. His desire to buy a telescope and study astronomy didn’t really bode well with his parents who could hardly manage to fund his schooling. So, Mishra saved up on his pocket money for over a year and half and bought his first telescope at the age of 13. Since then, there was no looking back. While pursuing his Class XII, Mishra set up a venture by the name of Spark Astronomy after borrowing money from his friends. The venture helps school set up astronomy labs for children.

 

“At first, it was extremely difficult to convince schools. They all wanted testimonials etc to know whether our venture has tasted success. Meanwhile I started worrying about how I would pay my friends back,” says Mishra. He realised in order to have a beginning, it was necessary to offer some incentives to the school. “So, I gave almost Rs 25,000 discount to the first school on the entire cost,” he adds. Mishra and his team of two approach various schools to raise awareness about the importance of astronomy labs and pitch their offer of helping them set it up. Once the proposal is accepted, they tie up with interior designers to assemble things and also aid in the purchasing of equipment, books, as well as, other resources such as telescopes, planispheres, and lunar maps. The venture charges Rs 3 lakh from schools for his offering. Most schools recover this from students by collecting an average minimal sum of Rs 60 every year.

“Many private schools have astronomy clubs and charge a whopping Rs 10,000 or above from students who’re willing to be a part of the club. Now that is a sum not every child can afford. I want every child to have accessibility to these labs so that they too can observe the sky and aim for the stars,” he says.

It is from his own personal hardships that Mishra has learnt to do what he is doing now.  Not many approved of his desire to learn more about astronomy. His parents and friends hardly paid attention until at the age of 14 when Mishra was awarded for discovering an asteroid as part of an outreach programme hosted by the Astronomical Society of India (ASI) in 2014. “It is not everyday that the son of a newspaper vendor figures on the front pages,” he recalls.

From being able to give lectures alongside former NASA Astronaut Nicole Stott to having his idol Rakesh Sharma write a message to him, Mishra has taken it upon himself to spread his love for the cosmos and its discovery. He holds skype sessions and classes with students across the length and breadth of the country as well as across the globe. “I don’t want any child to feel leftout. I remember how my friends would ridicule me for dreams. I want every child to explore the unknown and  harbour bigger dreams,” says. the 19-year-old who’s pursuing a BSc in physics from Ashoka University.

 

Astronomy as a subject is not well integrated in the education system today. Thereby, very few students are exposed to the know-hows and opportunities within the field. “The idea of starting a venture was to bridge this gap. We not only help schools build the layout and interiors of these labs, but also instal equipments,” says Mishra. His venture is already in talks with the central government to set up over 500 such labs across all the Kendriya and Navodaya Vidyalayas. He has also been approached by the NITI Ayog for a collaboration with Atal Tinkering Labs.

 

“Had I not seen hardships myself, I don’t think I would have been able to follow my passion so well,” he rues.



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