Meet Dr. Swati Mohan, the guidance and control operations lead, and the woman behind NASA’s rover landing on Mars 2020 mission.
“Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life”, announced Swati Mohan as Perseverance, the NASA rover landed on Mars on February 19, 2021. She is an Indian-American scientist and was the guidance and control operations lead for the mission from the NASA JPL’s mission control room in California.
Dr. Mohan and her team’s role in the said mission was to figure out how the spacecraft is positioned and ensure that it is pointed correctly in space- “solar arrays to the sun, antenna to Earth, and manoeuvre the spacecraft to get it where we want to go”, quoted Mohan in her NASA bio. As per The Hindu, “Ms. Mohan has worked on the Cassini mission to Saturn and GRAIL — a pair of formation flown spacecraft to the Moon, and has been a mainstay with the Mars 2020 mission since its beginning in 2013”.
Dr. Mohan emigrated to the US when she was just a year old. She grew up in the Northern Virginia and Washington DC area and attended Cornell University to get her bachelor’s in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering. She pursued her master’s and Ph.D. in Aeronautics/Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Her interest in space sparked when she was nine years old. She used to watch a popular TV show called Star Trek and was fascinated with space; consequently choosing it as her career. “Seeing the beautiful depictions of the new regions of the universe that they were exploring. I remember thinking ‘I want to do that. I want to find new and beautiful places in the universe.’ The vastness of space holds so much knowledge that we have only begun to learn”, she says. This interest grew much more when she took her first physics class in school.
Dr. Mohan is proud of her Indian roots and values. This was very much visible in the bindi she was sporting during the announcement. Seeing a fellow Indian embracing her culture so far from home filled millions of Indians worldwide with pride. Reacting to the buzz her bindi generated online, she said, “To me, it is part of who I am and that’s why I wore it that day. It wasn’t a special statement”. It also encouraged many women to share their stories about the bullying they endured as a child for wearing the accessory. She made a statement through her exceptional work whilst upholding her cultural values.
According to her, diversity made Perseverance’s mission a success. She gives credit to her whole team that worked together until the very end. The rover is currently spending its one year on Mars, which is equivalent to two earth years. Over the course of the mission, it will search for signs of ancient life and previous habitability on the red planet. It will also collect samples of the Martian rock and soil to be brought back to earth for detailed analysis.
Dr. Mohan is representing the country on an international level. She is an inspiration to all the women out there who wish to pursue something out of the box. Her dedication, hard work, and teamwork made the Perseverance rover a success in space. We at Fuzia, salute Dr. Swati Mohan and congratulate her on the achievement.