On 19 February 2021, NASA's most advanced astrobiological laboratory landed on Mars, called Perseverance Rover. It is in search of traces of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet.
NASA termed the landing of this complex manoeuvre as “the seven minutes of terror” making this feat the most elaborate and challenging one in the annals of robotic spaceflight.
The voice that is being heard in the background of this excitement is actually an Indian-American Dr Swati Mohan.
“Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life,” she exclaimed.
Dr Mohan was one of the scientists on this historic mission as the Guidance, Navigation, and Controls (GN&C) Operations Lead.
The GN&C team is said to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the spacecraft. She was also the lead systems engineer throughout the development being the key communicator between her team and the rest of the project.
Before it had been launched, Dr Mohan was extremely excited and had also tweeted a countdown on Twitter.
Inspired by Star Trek
Dr Mohan had migrated to the US from India at the age of 1 and was raised in Northern Virginia. According to NASA, she completed her B.S. from Cornell University in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and her M.S. and Ph.D from MIT in Aeronautics.
She was also a part of the mission to Saturn (Cassini) and the spacecraft that was flown to the Moon (Grail).
She was working on this mission to Mars since 2013.
Having professed her love for work, she shared her experience at NASA as “extremely exciting”.
Sharing her career plans as she was a kid, she said that until she was 16 years old she wanted to be a paediatrician. She has an interest in space but did not know the opportunities that it held. At 16, she took her first physics class which changed her life.
Sharing a funny incident, she said that her life-long interest in space was triggered after watching Star Trek at the age of 9, which exposed her to the vastness of space and the knowledge that it holds.