Chandrayaan 2: Meet The ‘Rocket Women’ Behind India’s Second Lunar Mission

Written by Chaitra Krishnan, MA (Journalism & Mass Communication)  • 

When Chandrayaan 2 shot to the moon on 22nd July from Sriharikota, it carried along the pride and hopes of an entire nation with it. The launch that was originally scheduled to be on 14th July was called off due to a technical glitch but the delay did not affect the undeterred team behind the mission. This is India’s second successful mission that traveled all the way to the moon. Chandrayaan 1 was launched in October 2008 to map the details of the moon’s geology, mineralogy, and topography. The difference between Chandrayaan 1 and 2 is that the former did not land on the surface of the moon and the latter is all set to make a soft landing. With Chandrayaan 2’s historic landing, India will become the fourth country in the world to own this achievement after Russia, America, and China.

The brainchild of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) will land on the moon in September and explore our natural satellite closely. Out of the many interesting facts associated with the Made In India mission, the one that stands out is the women leadership involved in the project. Ritu Karidhal, the Mission Director of Chandrayaan 2 and M Vanitha, the Project Director have broken the shackles of all the stereotypes associated with women leadership. Rightfully, their names will be marked golden in the contemporary history of India. Read on to know more about these women who have brought new hopes to the entire female population of the country.

The Women Force Behind The Lunar Mission

Image: Twitter

In a country like India that is still lagging behind in the acceptance of gender equality, girl children are often denied even the most basic education. To most of them, the moon is either a god or something that they were told about in stories and poems as a mystical object. The distance between these women and the moon is much shorter when compared to the distance that separates them from a meaningful life. Given this as the scenario, playing key roles in the country’s most ambitious space project isn’t a simple achievement for Ritu Karidhal and M Vanitha.

Image: Twitter

Ritu Karidhal is an aerospace engineer from Lucknow and she joined ISRO back in 2007. She had played a very important role as the Deputy Operations Director for India’s Mar’s Orbiter Mission aka Mangalyaan when was launched in 2013. On account of her achievements in the space research field, she is referred to as the “Rocket Woman” of India.

In a TED talk, Ritu talked about the achievement that India marked after the success of the Mangalyaan project. “The whole country was watching us, and it suddenly hit me that our aspirations and our expectations paled in comparison to the hopes of the country. And we saw the country’s hope being fulfilled right in front of us. I can never forget that moment. I was a simple girl from Lucknow, who was curious to know about outer space and who got a chance to be associated with the Mars Mission. With the success of the Mars mission, 1.3 billion Indians proved to the world that we have the capability to go this far into outer space and that we are as competent as anybody out there,” she said.

Image: Twitter

Vanitha Mutthayya, the Project Director of Chandrayaan 2 has also been a part of ISRO for quite a long time. She won the award for the Best Woman Scientist in 2006. She is in charge of Chandrayaan 2’s smooth functioning until it reaches the moon and carries out its functions. Before becoming a part of this lunar project, Vanitha worked at the ISRO Satellite Centre as the head of the Telemetry and Telecommand Divisions within the Digital Systems Group.

Another important thing to remember about the Chandrayaan 2 mission is that 30% of the entire team were all women. Hence, this scientific achievement of India will always be remembered as a huge leap for all the women across the globe.

Women In The Field Of Science And Technology

Image: Twitter

This is not the first time India’s women scientists played incredible and vital roles in large-scale space projects. The Mars Orbiter Mission also had women scientists like Nandini Harinath who is among the most prominent scientists of ISRO. While speaking at an event in 2015, she shed light on the widely believed stereotype about women not being comfortable with Math, Science, and computing. She spoke about McKinsey’s study which found that men were promoted on the basis of their potential and women were judged after considering the accomplishments they have already made. She also said that 24 percent of the total workforce at ISRO was constituted by women and that a higher number of women seek jobs in the field of Science and Technology today.

Ritu and Vanitha’s latest achievement, along with that of the many women scientists who lead India from the frontline is a thunderclap for those who often use the phrase— “that’s not something a woman can do.” So, the next time someone asks you, “You think you can fly to the moon?” You can actually say,” Yes, I think I can.”

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