Meet The Woman Who Leads India’s Manned Mission To Space – Dr. VR Lalithambika

by Anjala Farahath

We have been told time and again, without a second thought that women are difficult to understand. While I wouldn’t want to waste time debating that, allow me to re-phrase that statement for those who hold that thought. Women aren’t difficult to understand, but they understand even the most difficult of things. You don’t agree? Okay, we’ll give you a reason to agree: For some of us, mathematics was a subject we loved to loathe, and for others, it was science that we chose to keep at an arm’s length. Some of us got bogged down by family pressure, and others chose to lead simple lives. However, neither of this was the case for Dr. VR Lalithambika, the scientist who leads the team for India’s first human space flight program.

In the August of 2018, on the Independence Day, PM Narendra Modi set the 2022 deadline for India’s first Human Space Flight. He said that by the year 2022, either a daughter or a son of the country will go to space with a tricolor in hand. Although it wasn’t determined who would execute the mission, one thing was certain: the veteran woman scientist of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Dr. VR Lalithambika, was named the leader of this highly ambitious program. Now, that’s something that deserves a round of applause and a mouthful of appreciation, isn’t it? After all, it’s not every day that a woman scientist is recognised and lauded for her contributions.

So, Who Is Dr. VR Lalithambika?

With three decades at ISRO as a control systems engineer, Dr. Lalithambika is a skilled taskmaster. During her long and eventful tenure, she has worked on all Indian rockets PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle), and GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle), and the indigenous space shuttle. The 57-year-old scientist has played a prominent role in the execution of over 100 space missions and was the key member of a team that carried out a record launch of 104 satellites simultaneously, on February 15, 2017.


Lalithambika was a Deputy Director at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram. She has led the team to review the design of rockets— including the (GSLV-Mk-3), the rocket that would be carrying out the human space mission. She has also worked on building auto-pilot for rockets.

As a winner of the Astronautical Society of India excellence award for her remarkable contribution and work in launch vehicle technology, she was chosen by ISRO chairman K Sivan, director of ISRO, to spearhead the Human Space Flight program. This program will make India the fourth country to launch a human in space.

The Responsibilities That Lie On Her Shoulder


As the one leading the mission to space, she’s undoubtedly going to be, the main woman accountable for everything. Since the inception of the human spaceflight plan by ISRO, the agency has been constantly on its toes, developing technologies that form the structure of the mission. Lalithambika is directly responsible for the workability of these technologies. She needs to make sure that these technologies are built as systems and tested for perfection. Additionally, she also has the added onus on herself to collaborate with the country’s DRDO, the Indian Air Force, the academia, and foreign institutions to execute the mission.

What Drew Dr. VR Lalithambika To Space Science?

At some point or the other, the genes, intellect, passions, and interests of our parents and grandparents find their way into our lives. Lathikambika’s life was no different. Her grandfather, who was a multi-faceted personality, played a significant role in drawing her interest in space sciences. He was a mathematician, an astronomer, and a gadget-maker. Needless to say, Lathikambika grew under the shadows of science and technology because of her grandfather. To feed her growing curiosity, her grandfather used to alert her about rocket launches so that she could watch the sounding rocket launches from her house that was in close proximity to Thumba Rocket Testing Center, Thiruvananthapuram. To add to this exposure, her father’s engineering profession too influenced her interest. After all, coming from a family of engineers, her childhood wasn’t all about hopscotch and coloring books, it was about science and technology.

To lead a manned mission to space is no joke, but Lalithambika intends to give it her all. When this inspiring woman was asked to name one female scientist whom she admires, she was quick to name Marie Curie. In fact, even her daughter, a doctor herself, admires the work of Marie Curie. Quite understandably, this answer comes from the fact that there were few women scientists back then who gave their heart and soul to research work. Nobel Laureate Marie Curie broke stereotypes and conquered the field of science when women scientists were still a taboo. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that, just like her, Dr. Lalithambika too is one of those women who believe in doing justice to their passion regardless of their gender.

Amidst strong gender bias that’s plaguing almost every segment of the working environment, Dr. Lalithambika has yet again proved it that gender doesn’t define capability, only hard work and determination does.

Did you know about Dr. Lalaithambika? What do you think of the space mission? Let us know in the comments below.

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Anjala Farahath

Anjala Farahath is a 23-year-old tall mess under a hijab, trying to fit into the world of crop top while traveling nonstop, converting her passions into her job, and occasionally soaking in the raindrop. Do you think she needs to stop?