The Perseverance rover put another feather in NASA's cap after it successfully landed on Mars on February 18. And the woman behind the wheel is none other than Punjab-born Vandana 'Vandi' Verma.
Who is 'Vandi' Verma?
Vandana 'Vandi' Verma is the Chief Engineer for Robotic Operations for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. Verma is the daughter of fighter pilot working with the Indian Air Force. She was born and raised in Halwara, Punjab.
From driving tractors to Mars rovers
She was the woman on the wheel tasked with driving the Perseverance and Curiosity Mars rovers. Perseverance streaked through the Martian atmosphere on Thursday as it landed safely on the floor of a vast crater. Verma maneuvered the move using several advanced softwares such as PLEXIL that she herself co-wrote and created. According to reports, Vandana was 11 when she first rode a motor vehicle - a tractor. Verma drove the Curiosity rover that landed on Mars in 2012. And in 2021, she has successfully landed the Perseverance mission - the most advanced astrobiology rover ever sent to another world - on Mars.
The Martian driver
Vandi has been part of NASA's Mars rover team since 2008. she has operated previous Mars rovers like Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity, MER-A Spirit and MER-B Opportunity. She has also worked on creating flight simulation softwares and systems that were used by Perseverance. She has also worked with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which she joined in 2007 after finishing her PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University in 2005.
A win for diversity
Verma is the second Indian woman to hit the headlines after Dr Swati Mohan, the Indian scientist at NASA who spearheaded the development of attitude control and the landing system for the rover. Mohan recently went viral for her commentary of the rover's historic landing.
With Verma and Mohan, NASA - the American space organization that was traditionally critiqued as a white boys' club - is being appreciated for increasing its diversity quotient.
Many have raised the point on social media as well.
NASA today is looking as diverse as the general population. It will take ALL our talents to propel us forward to greater achievements.Congrats NASA!— G. Z. (@GZ3d3) February 18, 2021
This is just one way an institution can answer the question, "what can we do to make our field more diverse?" Thank you @NASA for your never-failing commitment to the long term. https://t.co/BmOT4omSl4— Dr Sarah Glaser (@SGlaserSF) February 18, 2021
The Perseverance Rover was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on July 30, 2020 -- made its landing on an ancient river delta in a lake that once filled Jezero Crater.