India was over the moon on Monday not only as it’s prestigious interplanetary expedition Chandrayaan-2 blasted off successfully, but also because for the first time in its space history at the forefront of the mission were two women scientists.
The step ahead to soft land a rover on the moon and make the country a space superpower was turned into a landmark moment by Muthayya Vanitha, the project director of the mission, and Ritu Karidhal, the mission director.
Chandrayaan-2, which means moon vehicle, took off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh state at 2.43 pm.
The launch was originally scheduled for July 15, but was abruptly called off at the eleventh hour due to a technical snag. With Monday’s successful launch India is now the fourth country to join the elite club of countries - along with the United States, China and the former Soviet Union – who have made soft landings on the moon.
But India has an edge over the other three countries for more than one reason. The mission was made possible with women at the helm and at a fraction of the cost – at US$140 - of what the other countries have spent to enable the soft-landings.
Vanitha, the daughter of a civil engineer and an electronics and communications engineer from Chennai, has been with the ISRO for 32 years. She was hired as a junior engineer and worked her way up as a designer and developer to finally settle in in a managerial position.
"I can easily understand the other person’s mindset and I can get along with them and we have all been together for so many years... I also learn and understand what each person's role and their responsibility is and I respect the inputs I get from them," M Vanitha told the media.
However, Vanitha, who is responsible for handling the data systems for India's remote sensing satellites, is a reluctant scientist. According to reports, she needed a lot of nudging from M Annadurai, the project director of Chandrayaan-1, to take on the responsibility.
Annadurai saw in her excellent problem-solving skills and team management capabilities and chose her over the others.
Meanwhile, Ritu Karidhal – nicknamed India’s Rocket Woman - is an aerospace engineer from Lucknow and has been with the ISRO for 22 years. She graduated from Lucknow University and then later enrolled at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.
Her stint at ISRO has been inspiring. She has pocketed prestigious awards – such as the ISRO Team Award for MOM and Women Achievers in Aerospace – which have amply endorsed her talent and leadership qualities.
The Chandrayaan-2 weighs 3.8 tons and carries 13 payloads and has three elements, lunar orbiter, lander and rover, all developed ISRO. It will travel for two months, before positioning itself in a circular orbit 100 km above the moon's surface before landing.
The good news is ISRO is literally brimming with women power – as women make up for 30 per cent of the workforce there – and there’s no stopping the women now!
"At ISRO, there is no difference between man and woman. All will have the equal share and they will take the load and they will be able to contribute also," ISRO Chairman, Dr K Sivan, the man who shot to fame after launching more than 100 satellites into space at one go in 2017, told the media.
Safe to conclude such moon-shots will no longer be once in a blue moon events!