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How do you picture a rocket scientist? A man in a lab coat, in western formals?  In India, our scientists can do the same in a saree and better, as proved by the women of the Mars Orbiter Mission(MOM). 

On India’s 73rd Independence Day, we celebrate the women of the Indian Space Research Organisation, ISRO who formed about 27 per cent of the MOM team’s strength.  The mission got great attention, it was commemorated by the government in the latest 2000 rupee note and in a true art inspired by life scenario, we will witness the release of the movie “Mission Mangal” 

Minne Vaid, a journalist and documentary filmmaker came out with a book “Those Magnificent Women and their Flying Machines,” where profiles the women scientists who spearheaded ISRO’s historic mission to Mars. At an earlier interview to The Hindu, she says. “I had an image in my mind, stereotypical no doubt, that the women scientists would be one-dimensional people, totally immersed in their work. I was wrong. They turned out to be regular working women juggling home, family, children and deadlines at work, all in the fiercely male-dominated world of space science.” 

Knowing these women and how they balance their lives makes technical careers more achievable to young women. A peek into the journey of the lives of a couple of the senior women on the team.

Anuradha TK – Director SATCOM, ISRO

One of the most senior scientists at ISRO, Anuradha was inspired by Neil Armstrong’s moon landing and wrote a poem in Kannada to celebrate that moment. Her career at ISRO spans over 36 years over which she has seen the steady increase of women scientists. A champion of women in STEM Anuradha has headed several programs at ISRO. Her role was instrumental in developing and launching the ISRO communication satellite GSAT-12 and headed an all women’s research team for the execution of the same. 

“Once girls see that there are lots of women in the space programme, they also get motivated, they think if she can do it, so can they,” she said in an interview to the BBC, explaining that having more women at work can inspire other women.

Nandini Harinath – Deputy Operations Director, Mars Orbiter Mission

“The sky is the limit they say, but not literally in ISRO,” says a beaming Nandini Harinath in her TEDx talk.  A star trek fan, Harinath’s first job that she applied was as a rocket scientist at ISRO where she continues till today. The crucial days of MOM launch, Harinath also tutored her daughter who was in grade 12. From having almost 20-hour workdays to counting on her mother’s help to run the house, for a mission like this requires collective energy. 

While she was on many projects and launches in her job, what changed with Maangalyaan was the amount of attention it received, nationally and internationally as well. From NASA to schools a recognition of the work and its possibility as a career for women

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