Swati's the 'face' of rover mission on Mars

When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (Nasa) Perseverance rover landed on Mars on Feb 18, it was Indian-American Swati Mohan who confirmed it.

"Touchdown confirmed," she announced to applause from the mission control staff at the United States agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

"Perseverance safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life."

The Perseverance is the largest and most advanced rover Nasa has sent to another world. It reached Mars after a 203-day journey traversing 472 million kilometres. Packed with groundbreaking technology, it was launched on July 30 last year from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. It will attempt to collect samples from Mars and return them to Earth.

In the seven minutes that Perseverance took to decelerate from 19,300kmh to 3.2kmh and land at a safe spot on Mars, Dr Mohan, wearing a Nasa logo-imprinted mask, became the face of the mission to those watching on Earth.

It took her a few minutes to feel the full weight of the accomplishment.

"I have to say that I was so focused on what I had to do," she told The Quint. "I made that touchdown and it took a few minutes for the moment to sink in. It slowly started to seep in that now Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars."

A video of the moment, released by Nasa, shows Dr Mohan sporting a bindi (a coloured dot worn on the centre of the forehead by Hindu women) and making calm announcements. The bindi soon became a talking point on Twitter.

"Big love for Swati Mohan, rocking that bindi in the control room," said Twitter user Sumen Desktronaut Rai.

Commented Ms Seema Hakhu Kachru: "Beauty with brain, bindi & braids."

Dr Mohan said "it was an appropriate moment to dress up for". She told The Quint: "I decided to wear a bindi. I don't necessarily wear it every day, but I do wear it when I want to dress appropriately, when being seen by others, to look professional and look nice, to look presentable."

She was quick to call her parents Srinivas Mohan and Jyoti in Florida soon after the rover landing.

"My parents were the first people I called," the guidance and controls operations lead for the Perseverance mission, told The Quint. "They were completely proud and overwhelmed."

She attributes her passion for science to her parents.

Dr Mohan grew up in Washington DC and Virginia, after her parents moved to the US from Bengaluru in India when she was a year old.

"My family does have a strong work ethic and a commitment to education," she told The Quint.

"My parents valued education above everything else, be it joining a special class or doing an internship. Both were in science and tech and they supported me pursuing that."

At home Dr Mohan speaks Kannada and is a practising Hindu. She lives in California with her husband and two children.

CNN reported that Dr Mohan has been interested in space since she saw her first Star Trek episode at age nine. It opened up her world to the beauty and expanse of the universe.

"I remember thinking 'I want to do that, I want to find new and beautiful places in the universe'," she told the Nasa website. "The vastness of space holds so much knowledge that we have only begun to learn."

Still, she thought she would become a paediatrician. It wasn't until she took her first physics class at age 16 that she began considering a career in engineering, which would allow her to follow her dreams of exploring space.

She completed her bachelor's degree from Cornell University in mechanical and aerospace engineering and her master's and PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in aeronautics and astronautics.

She then landed a job at Nasa, where she has been a part of space exploration efforts such as Cassini, a spacecraft that unearthed countless discoveries about Saturn, and GRAIL, a mission that sent twin spacecraft around the moon.

She started working on Nasa's Mars mission in 2013 and ultimately became the lead engineer for guidance, navigation and controls operations. She helms the mission's attitude control system, which makes sure the spacecraft is heading in the right direction.

"I've been on Perseverance longer than I've been at any school," Dr Mohan told Florida Today. "I've been on Perseverance longer than my younger daughter is alive. It's just taken up such a large portion of my life for so long."

The Perseverance team is made up of people from various cultures coming together to successfully execute a daunting mission.

"I can't speak for all of Nasa, but there are a lot of Indians and South Asians in JPL, so many on Perseverance herself," she told The Quint.

"One of the things I do is throw a big Deepavali party, which includes colleagues from the entry-descent team at JPL. We bring Deepavali to colleagues from other cultures and everyone celebrates together. We also celebrate many other traditions.

"I consider myself American, and I consider myself to be Indian too."

World leaders, scientists and others have commended Dr Mohan for her achievement with the Mars mission. Her message to the millions of young children who watched her in action on Feb 18 is: "Follow your passion, try to learn more about what excites you. I wouldn't have dreamt that I was going to be doing this at Nasa. Keep learning and exploring."

Indo-Asian News Service

"I made that touchdown and it took a few minutes for the moment to sink in. It slowly started to seep in that now Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars." - Indian-American Swati Mohan


அதற்குள்ளாகவா? இந்தச் செய்திகளையும் படிக்கலாமே!

இந்தச் செய்திகளையும் படிக்கலாமே!