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Muthayya Vanitha: ISRO’s Rocket Woman Who Shattered the Glass Ceiling and Aimed for the Moon

Muthayya Vanitha: ISRO’s Rocket Woman Who Shattered the Glass Ceiling and Aimed for the Moon

India’s second inter-planetary mission was made possible by a group of ace women scientists and leading them by example of sheer dedication and perseverance was Vanitha.

New Delhi: As Chandrayaan-2 left the surface of the earth and blasted its way into space, the responsibility of managing the mammoth operation switched hands. Mission director, Ritu Karidhal assumed the control of navigating the rover towards the Moon, while project director Muthayya Vanitha heaved a sigh of relief.

India’s second inter-planetary mission was made possible by a group of ace women scientists and leading them by example of sheer dedication and perseverance was Vanitha. She is among the 30 per cent women of the team who thrust the mission to a successful launch.

Hailing from Chennai, the project director has given the India Space Research Organization (ISRO) 32 years of her life and learning.

"I joined here as junior-most engineer. So I worked in the laboratory, testing carts, making hardware, designing developing and then reached a managerial position," she was quoted as saying by the NDTV.

Daughter of a civil engineer and an electronics and communications engineer, Vanitha worked tirelessly to give India the privilege of being remembered as the fourth country in the world to make a highly challenging soft-landing on the Moon.

Her only resolve was to do it at a fraction of the cost incurred by the contemporaries of ISRO.

Vanitha was initially reluctant to assume the role of project director of Chandrayaan-2. It was the persuasion of M Annadurai, the project director of Chandrayaan-1, which finally got her on board.

“Vanitha is an expert in data handling. She was comfortable in her digital/ hardware section and was hesitant to move to the role of a project director. This role not only involves nearly 18 hours of work a day, but is also in the national limelight bringing heavy responsibility of its own,” Annadurai told News18.

Managing the role of mission director is nerve wrecking task. A former official at ISRO explained what the job looks like. While the mission director handles all the things, which have to be done on the spacecraft from the time it is inserted into the orbit, the project director has to remain immersed in the project for years, he said.

Vanitha had previously worked on data operations for the country’s remote sensing satellites and is regarded as an electronics system engineer of great repute. Known especially for her problem solving skills, the Chandrayaan-2 project director has the Best Woman Scientist Award of the Astronautically Society of India for the year 2006 to her credit.

However, Chandrayaan-2 is Vanitha’s first project as director. Annadurai, who worked with her from when she was an associate project director, said in an interview that her skills as a systems engineer fit best for the second mission to Moon.

Besides, the Chandrayaan-2, Vanitha also played a key role in the launch and success of Mangalyaan in November 2013.

She is also a project director of telemetry and telecom divisions in the Digital Systems Group at ISRO, and has worked as deputy project director for TTC-baseband systems for Cartosat-1, Oceansat-2 and Megha-Tropiques satellites.

first published:July 23, 2019, 08:30 IST
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