Indian women leading space race hope to inspire girls

NASA’s Perseverence rover is finally on Mars, and on Earth, two Indian-born scientists are on the moon: Swati Mohan and Vandi Verma.

“When Mars is visible in the sky, you look at that little dot and you think that right now there is a robot executing the commands that I told it to do. That’s pretty wild, ”said NASA rover operator Vandi Verma. Reuters.

Verma, who describes his job as “one of the coolest jobs in the world,” is the NASA rover operator for Perseverence. She hopes the high profile of women on the latest mission to Mars will inspire a new generation to pursue careers in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

Verma’s colleague Swati Mohan made headlines around the world when she chronicled the exciting landing of the Perseverance rover on the Red Planet after its dangerous descent through the Martian atmosphere.

“It has definitely inspired girls everywhere. It has opened up people’s perceptions of who a space engineer can be, ”said Verma. Reuters.

Indian-American Dr. Swati Mohan spearheaded the development of the attitude control and landing system for the rover – “Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance is safe on the surface of Mars, ready to start looking for signs of past lives, ”exclaimed NASA engineer Dr. Swati Mohan.

The Perseverance Rover was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on July 30, 2020; landed in an ancient river delta in a lake that once filled Jezero crater.

According to NASA, Dr. Mohan had immigrated from India to the United States at the age of 1. She grew up in the Northern Virginia-Washington DC metropolitan area and then completed her Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Cornell University. . He then received his Master’s and Ph.D. from MIT in Aeronautics / Astronautics. He has worked on multiple missions such as Cassini (mission to Saturn) and GRAIL (a pair of spacecraft flown in formation to the Moon). He has worked on Mars 2020 since near the beginning of the project in 2013 and currently works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA.

At the age of 9, having seen ‘Star Trek’ for the first time, Dr. Mohan was quite in awe of the beautiful renderings of the new regions of the universe that they were exploring. He immediately realized that he wanted to do that and “find new and beautiful places in the universe.” Simultaneously, Mohan also wanted to become a pediatrician until he was 16 years old. However, it was his first physics class and the “great teacher” he obtained, who saw “engineering” as a way to pursue his interest in space exploration.

Verma, who has been driving rovers on Mars since 2008, said the latest mission would help answer questions “that change what we know about our place in the universe.”

Born in India, Verma studied electrical engineering at Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh before moving to the United States, where she earned a doctorate in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University.

When she joined NASA in 2004, female engineers used to be the only women in the room, she said. But things are changing.

NASA, which aims to land the first woman on the moon by 2024, is on a mission to boost diversity. Women made up 34% of the workforce in 2019, holding 18% of senior scientific positions, roughly triple the 2009 figure, according to the agency.

Verma said it was very exciting to see an increasing number of applications from women, adding that the diverse equipment led to “more creative thinking and out of the box.”

British space engineer Vinita Marwaha Madill, founder of Rocket Women, which aims to inspire women to choose STEM careers, said role models were vital.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” he told her. Reuters, citing astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.

“Seeing someone who looks like you allows you to believe that your goals are possible,” said Marwaha Madill, whose own passion took flight after watching Helen Sharman become the first British astronaut in space in 1991.

Women like Mohan, Mars mission guidance and operations leader, “will inspire the next generation to reach for the stars,” he said.

To 2018 NITI Ayog The report ‘Status of Women in Science Among Select Institutions in India’ reveals that there are more women than ever enrolling in the field of science. However, women do not continue in the field of science for long.

(With input from Reuters)


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