‘Representation matters’: How Dr Swati Mohan, the woman behind NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, impressed all online

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As NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars on Thursday after seven months in space, it was Indian-American scientist Dr Swati Mohan who confirmed the mission’s success. “Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life,” Dr Mohan announced soon after the rover landed, as cheers erupted in NASA JPL’s mission control room in California. The video, released by NASA has now gone viral, with many around the globe commenting on her calm demeanour. Indians also pointed out that the NASA operations lead was sporting a bindi.

Photos of the NASA engineer quickly went viral, along with praises for her pivotal role in the mission, others felt proud as she comfortably represented her cultural heritage.

The NASA scientist emigrated from India to the United States with her family when she was just a year old. Most of her childhood was spent in the Northern Virginia-Washington DC area. She graduated from the Cornell University and completed her MS and PhD from MIT in aeronautics.

To see a women in STEM in such a leading position moved many across social media platforms. Many thanked her saying she today has not only successfully completed the difficult mission but also inspired a new generation of scientists, underlining “representation matters”. Taking about the bindi, some lamented that in their childhood days, they were bullied for wearing one, so it’s a pretty big deal for Swati to wear it at NASA and own it.

“I’ve been on Perseverance longer than I’ve been at any school. I’ve been on Perseverance longer than my younger daughter is alive. It’s just taken up such a large portion of my life for so long,” Dr Mohan told Florida Today.

Talking how the pandemic added stress to the already difficult mission, she added: “The last three to four years especially, then the pandemic on top of it has kind of added another layer of stress.”





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