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Indian-American Scientist Dr. Swati Mohan Leads Landing of NASA’s Rover on Mars

Indian-American Scientist Dr. Swati Mohan Leads Landing of NASA’s Rover on Mars

Dr. Swati Mohan

While space buffs are celebrating the landing of NASA’s rover Perseverance on Mars, the South Asian community is rejoicing in the fact that the lead scientist on the mission was Dr. Swati Mohan.

Dr. Swati Mohan was the first to confirm that the rover had successfully landed on the Martian surface. “Touchdown confirmed,” she said as mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena celebrated the feat.

NASA released a video of this moment which shows Dr. Mohan wearing a small bindi on her forehead. This soon caught the eye of desi Twitterati who went ecstatic over the fact that she comfortably represented her cultural heritage.

Apart from being a member of the Perseverance Rover mission since the beginning of NASA’s Mars program, Dr. Mohan has also been a part of various important NASA missions, like Cassini (a mission to Saturn) and GRAIL (a pair of formation flown spacecraft to the Moon).

The NASA scientist immigrated from India to the United States with her family when she was just a year old. Most of her childhood was spent in the Northern Virginia-Washington DC area. She graduated from the Cornell University and completed her MS and Ph.D. from MIT in aeronautics.

Dr. Swati Mohan with MIT alum in NASA
Image Source: Twitter via @DrSwatiMohan

To see a woman in STEM in such a leading position moved many across social media platforms. Many thanked her saying that she did not only successfully complete the difficult mission but also inspired a new generation of scientists, underlining “representation matters”. Taking about the bindi, some lamented that in their childhood days, they were bullied for wearing one, so it’s a pretty big deal for Dr. Swati Mohan to wear it at NASA and own it.

Speaking to Republic Media Network about her journey from being a part of the Cassini mission to Saturn, GRAIL, a pair of formation flown spacecraft to the Moon, and several others to the Mars 2020 mission, Dr. Swati Mohan said, “It has really been a journey. In the previous missions I worked, I had much smaller roles and an opportunity to learn. Being a part of the Mars 2020 project was my first opportunity to see the entire life cycle of a mission starting from when it was just a paper concept to actually when we got to operate it in space.”

“It gave me the opportunity to bring all the pieces together from the different missions I had worked on or previous technology I had worked on and bring it all in one mission to see it from concept to design and finally to operations,” she added.

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