WASHINGTON: Nasa's historic landing of the Perseverance Rover on the Martian surface on Thursday afternoon after seven months in space was confirmed by an Indian-American named Dr Swati Mohan.
As soon as the rover landed on the surface of Mars after surviving a particularly tricky plunge, it was Dr Swati Mohan who was the first to declare to the cheer filled NASA control room, "Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life."
NASA released a video on their official Twitter account of Dr Mohan making the announcement to the control room as cheers erupted from everybody present in the room. NASA wrote, "Touchdown confirmed. The #CountdowntoMars is complete, but the mission is just beginning."
Dr Mohan moved to the US from India when she was only a year old. She was raised in Northern Virginia and Washington DC metro area. Dr Mohan earned her bachelor's degree from Cornell University in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, and her M.S., as well as her Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Aeronautics/Astronautics.
Over the course of her illustrious career with NASA, Dr Mohan has worked on the Cassini mission to Saturn and GRAIL — a pair of formation flown spacecraft to the Moon. She has been associated with the Mars 2020 mission since its inception in 2013.
Dr Mohan, who successfully led the development of attitude control and the landing system for the rover, was among the team of scientists behind the extraordinary mission. The attitude control system is used for pointing the rover in the direction it needs to be and also helps to figure out where the spacecraft is oriented in space.
The Perseverance Rover travelled through space for nearly seven months and covered over 472 million km before entering the Martian atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour (19,000 km per hour) to begin its plunge to land on the planet's surface.
Dr Mohan credits her love for space back to the American science fiction series 'Star Trek', which she first watched at the age of 9. She wanted to become a paediatrician until she was 16, but later decided to become an engineer and pursue her interest in space exploration.
Dr Mohan had told NASA that witnessing the beautiful portrayals of the new regions of the universe that NASA were exploring encouraged her to "find new and beautiful places in the universe." She had told NASA," The vastness of space holds so much knowledge that we have only begun to learn."
Dr Mohan credits her first physics class for furthering her passion for space. "I was lucky enough to have a great teacher, and everything was so understandable and easy. That was when I really considered engineering, as a way to pursue space," she added.
Dr Mohan spoke about her team's role in the current Mars mission, and said during the cruise phase heading toward Mars, the team's job is to work out how the spacecraft is oriented, and ensure it is pointed correctly in space — "solar arrays to sun, antenna to Earth, and manoeuvre the spacecraft to get it where we want to go." She said during the "seven minutes of terror" leading to the entry, descent, and landing on Mars, GN&C determines the position of the spacecraft and commands the manoeuvres to help it land safely.
Dr Mohan, as her team's operations lead, is the primary point of communication between the GN&C subsystem and the rest of the project. She is responsible for the training of the GN&C team, scheduling the mission control staffing for GN&C, as well as the policies/procedures the GN&C uses in the mission control room.
Meanwhile, a video of the moment Dr Mohan declared the rover was beginning its attempt to land on Mars was released by NASA. The video features Dr Mohan wearing a small bindi on her forehead - a fact that quickly became viral on Indian Twitter.
Indian Twitter poured their adoration for Dr Mohan and her bindi.
Dr Mohan's success would serve as an inspiration for the many young women who want to pursue their education and career in STEM.