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Meet Swati Mohan, the Star Trek inspired MIT graduate who led the landing of NASA’s rover on Mars

During the landing of the Mars Perseverance Rover, she provided commentary regarding the entry, descent and the landing from mission control.

In a major feat, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on the Martian surface after spending 7-long months in space. During the said period, the vehicle crossed 472 million km at about 19000 km per hour speed. When the rover plunged into the Mars’ atmosphere, it was an Indian-American scientist by the name of Swati Mohan who confirmed the vehicle’s survival.

In her own words, Swati Mohan said, “I led the attitude control system of Mars 2020 during operations, and was the lead systems engineer throughout development. The attitude control system points the vehicle where it needs to be and helps figure out where the spacecraft is oriented in space.” During the landing of the Mars Perseverance Rover, she provided commentary regarding the entry, descent and the landing from mission control.

According to the official website of NASA, Swati Mohan’s family emigrated to the United States when she was just a year old. She spent her childhood in Northern Virginia/Washington DC metro area before joining Cornell University for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in 2000. After her undergraduate programme, Swati Mohan completed her MS and PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering in 2010.

Screengrab of the Linkedin profile of Swati Mohan

While she worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a Systems Engineer between 2004 and 2005, Swati Mohan enrolled on the PhD programme at MIT in 2005. After the completion of her PhD, she joined NASA again as a Guidance, Navigation and Control Systems Engineer. She has worked on the Cassini mission to Saturn and GRAIL. Swati Mohan has been on the Mars project since 2013.

Screengrab of the Linkedin profile of Swati Mohan

Although the Indian-American scientist aspired to become a paediatrician initially, she ended up in NASA. She recounted, “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. I was lucky enough to have a great teacher, and everything was so understandable and easy. That was when I really considered engineering, as a way to pursue space.”

While talking about her journey, she said, “I remember watching my first episode of “Star Trek” at the age of 9, and seeing the beautiful depictions of the new regions of the universe that they were exploring. I remember thinking “I want to do that. I want to find new and beautiful places in the universe.” The vastness of space holds so much knowledge that we have only begun to learn.

Swati Mohan added that she is the primary point of communication between Guidance, Navigation, and Controls (GN&C) subsystem and the rest of the Mars project. She is also involved in training the team, laying out the policies and procedures for the GN&C team and scheduling the mission control staffing. “The GN&C subsystem is “eyes and ears” of the spacecraft…During entry, descent, and landing on Mars, GN&C determines the position of the spacecraft and commands the manoeuvres it to help it land safely”

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