Over the Moon: Meet some of the women scientists behind ISRO’s many successful space missions

Women scientists have been an integral part of ISRO, playing key roles in several of the space agency's many successful missions.

ByDeeksha Devadiga

Published Aug 28, 2023 | 12:00 PMUpdatedAug 28, 2023 | 12:29 PM

54 female engineers and scientists were directly working with the Chandrayaan-3 mission. (Supplied)

On Wednesday, 23 August, India became the first country to reach the uncharted south pole on the Moon when its Chandrayaan-3 lander module achieved a successful soft landing. A follow-up to the Chandrayaan-2 mission of 2019, Chandrayaan-3 successfully landed after a 40-day journey.

It also makes India the fourth country, after the US, China, and the former Soviet Union, to soft-land on the Moon.

Where credit is due

The commendable efforts of the team of scientists, engineers, and researchers at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) are to be noted for this feat. And while all eyes are on S Somanath (chairman of ISRO) and P Veeramuthuvel (project director), there are many notable women who were, directly and indirectly, a part of the mission and who had made major contributions towards putting India on the Moon.

Several female engineers and scientists were directly working on the Chandrayaan-3 mission across various roles — associates, deputy project directors, and project managers for various systems — and were deployed at different centres.

Along with the success of the mission, South First celebrates the women who broke the shackles of patriarchy and created a space for themselves in the history of space science. They carry a beacon of hope and inspiration for the younger generation.

Also Read: Why did ISRO choose South Pole of Moon for landing?

1. Kalpana K, Deputy Project Director 

As soon as the lander module touched down and the mission’s success was celebrated at ISRO, the team addressed the nation. Along with the four men who stood at the podium, was one woman.

She had a grin on her face that she couldn’t contain. She was introduced as Deputy Project Director Kalpana K, and it was a “goosebump” moment for my gender.

Kalpana attributed the success of the entire mission to her team and their efforts.

Kalpana K, Deputy Project Director of Chandrayaan-3. (Supplied)

Speaking after the landing she said, “This will remain the most memorable and the happiest moment for all of us and for our team at Chandrayaan-3. We have achieved our goal flawlessly from the day we started rebuilding our spacecraft after the Chandrayaan-2 experience. It has been breathe-in and breathe-out Chandrayaan-3 for our team. Starting from the reconfiguration and all the assembling we have conducted meticulously, this has only been possible because of the team’s immense effort.”

Kalpana, who hails from Bengaluru, is an IIT Kharagpur graduate. She joined ISRO in 2003 and has been a part of various projects. She played a vital role in designing and optimising the lander system for Chandrayaan-3.

She was also a part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission and the Mangalyaan team for the Mars Orbiter Mission.

Also Read: ISRO chief credits Chandrayaan-3 success to ‘incremental progress’

2. Dr Ritu Karidhal

Also known as the ‘Rocket Woman of India’, Dr Karidhal has been an aerospace engineer at ISRO since 1997. She is one of the prominent figures in Indian space history.

She developed the onward autonomy system of the craft that made Mangalyaan a successful mission.

She is one of the senior scientists at ISRO and has been a key member of many major space missions. She has been the operations director for many missions. She helmed the Mars mission as the deputy director of the project.

She has many accolades to her name, including the ISRO Young Scientist Award in 2007 presented by the former president of India, the late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

3. Vanitha Muthayya

Vanitha Muthayya, project director of Chandrayaan-2. (Supplied)

Vanitha Muthayya was the project director of Chandrayaan-2, the second lunar exploration mission which crashed while attempting to land.

Muthayya joined ISRO as a junior engineer and went on to become the first woman project director at ISRO.

She also was the deputy project director for a number of satellites including the Cartosat-1, Oceansat-2, and Megha-Tropiques. She was also a part of the team that led Mangalyaan.

In 2006, she received the Best Woman Scientist Award by the Astronomical Society of India.

Also Read: PM names Chandrayaan-3 touchdown site as Shiv Shakti Point

4. Nandini Harinath

Nandini Harinath, a rocket scientist, has worked in over 14 space missions and contributed to many projects in the last 20 years that she has worked at ISRO.

She was the deputy operations director on the Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan), which successfully placed a spacecraft in orbit around Mars in 2014.

She is currently working as the project manager and mission designer.

Anuradha TK, the first woman to be a Satellite Project Director. (Supplied)

5. Anuradha TK

Anuradha TK, a scientist who joined ISRO in 1982, was the first woman to be a Satellite Project Director.

She headed the successful launch of three communications satellites such as GSAT-9, GSAT-17, and GSAT-18.

She specialised in communication satellites and retired after 34 years of working at ISRO.

Also Read: Pragyan rover on a 8-metre expedition on moon, payloads engaged

6. Moumita Dutta

Physicist Moumita Dutta played an instrumental role in the Mars Orbiter Mission and has been a part of projects like HySat and Chandrayaan-1.

She specialises in the development and testing of optical and IR sensors, instruments, and payloads.

She was the recipient of the ISRO Team of Excellence Awards after the success of Mangalyaan.

VR Lalithambika, Director of Gaganyaan. (Supplied)

7. VR Lalithambika

Lalithambika, director of Gaganyaan, has been part of more than 100 missions in ISRO. She was born in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, and before ISRO was the deputy director at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center.

For her contributions, she has received the Astronautical Society of India Award of Excellence in launch vehicle technology.

Setting the stage for the future

The women behind the mission and in the field of science and technology have set precedents and have set the stage for future generations to come.

Their relentless pursuit and drive for the country and their simplicity have gained them heaps of praise and immense mass following.