As NASA's Perseverance rover landed successfully in a Martian crater, close to the equator of the red planet, congratulations have poured in from all quarters. "Touchdown confirmed," said operations lead Swati Mohan, prompting an euphoric outpouring from the scientists and engineers at NASA's mission control in California. A video of the historic moment shared online by NASA shows Mohan announcing the updates leading up to the touchdown as the team cheers.
Since then, photos of Mohan has gone viral, both for her Indian connection and for the fact that she can be seen sporting a bindi on her forehead. Over the last day or so desi Twitter has been abuzz with praise for Bengaluru-born scientist who had shifted to the US at the age of one.
According to details provided on her NASA profile, she had wanted to be a pediatrician until the age of 16. "I was always interested in space, but I didn't really know about opportunities to turn that interest into a job. When I was 16, I took my first physics class," she is quoted as saying. This class would go on to trigger a deep-seated interest in space, and Mohan began considering engineering.
Presently, Swati Mohan is a member of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory team. She is the Mars 2020 Guidance and Controls Operations Lead and has previously worked on several other missions including Cassini (a mission to Saturn) and GRAIL (a pair of formation flown spacecraft to the Moon).
Put simply, her job is to be the primary point of communication between the GN&C subsystem (the eyes and ears of the spacecraft) and the rest of the project.
Since being shared, the video clip has garnered a massive number of responses. "An inspiration for budding scientists around the world," said one Twitter user.
Many others focused on her bindi, recalling times when they had faced rejection from peer groups for similar embellishments. "I wore a bindi in elementary school until I was old enough to notice and feel self conscious about people's comments. Admittedly, I still hesitate to post childhood pictures because of it. Swati Mohan's made me smile," wrote one user.