For India hand behind Mars touchdown, it began with Star Trek

swati mohan

“TOUCHDOWN CONFIRMED. Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life,” introduced Dr Swati Mohan, head of steerage, navigation and management operations at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.

Mars Perseverance Rover, deployed to discover Martian ambiance and terrain, had simply landed on the purple planet after finishing a tough descent to Jezero Crater throughout what is best often known as “seven minutes of terror”. But for Indian-American Mohan, 38, who was accountable for touchdown the spacecraft after a seven-month, 300-million-mile journey, there was the extra duty of commentary.

“I was hyper-aware, so from the last 10 minutes on, there was no script. We had to look at the data that was coming down and translate that… I was very much on edge trying to anticipate the next item that would show up and hoping that was what we wanted to see,” says Mohan in a video interview with The Indian Express.

JPL, she says, had a programme on how one can put together the operations group for varied situations. “Going through various scenarios in the last few months helped. I was trying to think that it was one of the scenarios that we had already gone through, to not feel nervous,” says Mohan, who had been engaged on Mars 2020 Mission for the final eight years.

She led the group that developed a know-how referred to as ‘Attitude Control System Terrain Relative Navigation’, which helped the rover land precisely on the calculated spot.

Mohan grew up in a “traditional, vegetarian family”, with roots in Tumkur in Karnataka, which was extraordinarily supportive when it got here to schooling. Her mother and father Srinivas and Jyoti Mohan, each engineers in Bengaluru, moved to the US 37 years in the past, looking for a greater life. Mohan needed to be a pediatrician, till she got here throughout Star Trek and acquired all in favour of area.

“I must have been in grade three and it was this episode which showed these beautiful scenes of how space looked like. I thought to myself that I want to go see that place. It was curiosity that kicked off the hobby,” says Mohan.

She quickly began studying books in regards to the Hubble Telescope, photo voltaic system and astrophysics. The engineering side struck her when she took her first physics class in highschool. This is the place the prospect of a profession in astrophysics and aeronautics started.

Mohan at all times factored NASA in her life. Her first internship was at NASA’s Goddard Space Center in highschool, adopted by one other at Kennedy Flight Centre and even at JPL. A graduate from Cornell University in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, she completed her Masters and Phd from MIT. She labored as a junior engineer within the Cassini mission, which landed the Huygens probe into Saturn’s moon.

Mohan joined the Mars Mission in 2013, three years after she accomplished her PhD and started studying from these concerned within the Curiosity Mission (2012) earlier than being given a pivotal function within the touchdown of Perseverance.

While Mohan was overwhelmed by the eye and appreciation she acquired after the mission’s success, she was amused by the social media response to her “bindi”. “Wearing a bindi for me is a part of my identity… I have been wearing it since I was a child…. For me, it was just another day at work, which is why for me it’s funny for me that it’s being taken as such a statement,” says Mohan.