Unfolding the Universe – Volunteer Spotlight: Ratna Day

December 25 2021
Launch teams monitor the countdown to the launch of Arianespace's Ariane 5 rocket carrying NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, Saturday, Dec. 25, 2021, in the Jupiter Center at the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.<br /> Credit: NASA

Launch teams monitor Ariane 5 rocket carrying NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: NASA

Early this morning as Santa’s reindeer were finishing their rounds, NASA spokesperson Rob Navias celebrated what he called “quite a Christmas present for the world’s astronomers.”  The James Webb Space Telescope has begun its journey deep into space far beyond Earth’s gravity to orbit the sun and study distant worlds.

Among the scientists sending that telescope into space was our very own Ratna Day, volunteer of AID in Maryland for 20 years and counting!

Ratna Day stands before a large mirror which is part of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Born in Bihar during a cyclone, Ratna took the world by storm from an early age.  Her father told her stories about space and about the first woman cosmonauts.  After studying Physics and graduating from Shantiniketan she eventually worked for NASA in Greenbelt and started volunteering for AID while studying at the University of Maryland, College Park.  She has coordinated projects in West Bengal, particularly Nishtha, an organization dedicated towards empowering women to fight for equal rights, equal opportunities and equal dignity.  The women and girls Nishtha’s educational and training programs eagerly look forward to meting their Ratna Didi every time she visits India.  She is a cherished role model for them, reaffirming their belief that women can reach for the stars.  She talks with them about her own life and struggles and encourages them to stay in school and be independent.

Read about Nishtha: Shelter, youth groups give children a chance for a better life

After seeing the news of the successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the girls studying at Nishtha’s day centers and the members of the women’s groups sent messages of congratulations and clips of themsleves dancing with joy and showing off their own models of the James Webb paper snowflake that unfolds just as the mirrors or the telescope will unfold in space at the right time to observe light from stars as far away as 13.6 billion light years.
As the telescope sets out to unfold the secrets of the early universe, the girls and women working with Nishtha are unfolding their world.
We are all proud of Ratna and of every one of our volunteers who bring incredible dedication to the cause of socially just and equitable development for marginalized communities in India.
Snowflake Craft
This holiday season, NASA has provided a pattern for making a James Webb paper snowflake that unfolds just as the mirrors or the telescope will unfold in space at the right time.   Fun for all ages!

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