On Thursday, as NASA’s Perseverance rover made a successful landing on the Red Planet, it was Indian-American scientist Swati Mohan who led the guidance, navigation, and control operations of the Mars 2020 mission. She also worked on NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn.
“Touchdown confirmed,” said operations lead Dr Swati Mohan at around 3:55 PM Eastern Time (2055 GMT), as mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena erupted in cheers. A video of the moment, released by NASA, shows Dr Mohan wearing a small bindi on her forehead – a detail that was quickly picked up on and became a talking point on desi Twitter. The tiny bindi she wore generated a huge buzz on social media. It was Swati Mohan who steered the controls and landing system of the rover and navigated a rather difficult touchdown, while the whole world watched with bated breath.
Dr Mohan emigrated to the US from India when she was only a year old. Raised in Northern Virginia and Washington DC metro area, she completed her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, and her M.S. and Ph.D from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Aeronautics/Astronautics. Many took to the microblogging platform to thank Dr Mohan for wearing a bindi, saying that they had been bullied for doing the same.