aditya l1 launch women scientists: Aditya L1 launch: Women trailblazers make mission possible

As Aditya L1 made its way to the Sun last week, one woman was radiating confidence as India cheered yet another remarkable feat.

The project director of the Sun mission, the 59-year-old Nigar Shaji – is on top of the list of illustrious women who have been a key part of India’s recent space missions – be its Aditya L1, Chandrayaan 2 or 3. Two women played a key role in the Chandrayaan-2 mission: the project director M Vanitha and the mission director Ritu Karidhal Srivastava. Similarly, in the case of Chandrayaan-3, Kalpana K, the deputy director played a key role.

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Shaji hails from Sengottai, a small town in Tamil Nadu’s Tenkasi district. “I was selected by higher management as project director of Aditya-L1,” she told ET. “I was part of many Geostationary Equatorial Orbit (GEO) and Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) projects, as well as Chandrayaan-3. Earlier, I was associate project director of Resourcesat 2A.” Resourcesat-2A is the Indian Remote Sensing Satellite for National Resource Monitoring and Management. Currently, Shaji said she is also the programme director for LEO and planetary missions.

Shaji joined Isro’s Satellite Centre, now U R Rao Satellite Centre, in 1987 and fittingly paid a tribute to UR Rao while addressing Isro team members post the successful launch of Aditya L1 on Saturday.

Annapurni Subramaniam, director of Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), the institute that developed one of the primary payloads of Aditya L1, the Visible Emission Line Coronagraph, told ET the participation of women in Isro’s workforce is relatively better compared to other research institutes. IIA has around 25% female scientists, she said, adding that she is only the second female director in IIA’s 50-year history.

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“Visuals of women project directors taking to the stage encourages girls and young women to pursue a career in science,” she said. “With more representation of women, and more women scientists being spoken to and spoken about in the media, more get inspired,” she said. “We need to create a supportive environment for women and have a framework to encourage women so that they don’t drop out after career breaks due to societal or family obligations, marriage or childbearing,” she said. At Sriharikota on Saturday, Subramaniam was the only woman in a panel discussion organised by Isro to talk about Aditya L1.

GC Anupama, former dean and senior professor, IIA, said, it is not just women who are inspired by seeing women in leadership roles but also men. “Seeing the confidence exuded by women at the helm of affairs can serve as an inspiration for men too. This creates a healthy working environment,” she said.

Women have been pivotal in the success of scientific missions like Chandrayaan-3 and Mangalyaan too. Kalpana K served as the deputy project director of the Chandrayaan-3 mission. The aeronautical engineer has been involved in the construction of various satellites of India and was also a part of the Chandrayaan-2 and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission Mangalyaan.

Muthayya Vanitha, an electronics system engineer, has led projects on satellites at Isro. She was the project director of the Chandrayaan-2 lunar mission.

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