An Interview with Nandini Harninath, Deputy Director of Operations of the Mars Mission, held at Pragyan 2017.
When we think of the India’s mission to Mars, many things cross our mind. Along with feeling of pride of a first time success achieved by our nation, some of us remember a picture of an enthusiastic group of women in kanjivaram saris and lab coats. Pragyan 2017 had the pleasure of hearing from one of these ladies, Nandini Harinath, the Deputy Director of Operations at the Mars Mission, who successfully steered the Mars Orbiter.
In addition to her eye-opening guest lecture at Pragyan on the Mangalyaan and the feats of ISRO, we had the opportunity of sitting down with her one-on-one.
She revealed that she never fathomed working at ISRO throughout her childhood. “For me at that point of time, I was watching science fiction movies, reading books, watching Star trek.” It was only much later that she found herself heading such an important mission at ISRO.
On the worldwide acclaim of Mangalyaan, Nandini Harinath says “It was a good thing that ISRO went public. It brought us to a new level and the entire world appreciated us and recognized our expertise.” Globally this meant a newfound respect for India as a leader in space travel. In India, this meant we all got to be involved with one of the greatest achievements of our country. In fact, Nandhini recounts, “My daughter was changing her WhatsApp dp based on what was happening. I even heard schools were watching the session.”
The Mangalyaan mission has taught us a great deal. On a budget smaller than the Martian movie and in a period less than a year we were able to send a satellite to Mars. According to deputy director of the mission, the most important lesson learned was “Nothing is impossible. There were so many countries that failed in their first tries. But we weren’t disheartened and we didn’t accept that.” She also emphasizes that none of this would be possible without teamwork from within the ISRO team and support from other countries.
“I would like to be known as a scientist, not a woman scientist.”
On ISRO, Nandini notes that although there are significantly more men than women, she is proud to work at an organization that shows no gender discrimination. This can be seen in the numerous women scientists involved with the Mangalyaan mission. She says she never feels any different as a women in the field because she is treated equally. Nandini expresses, “I would like to be known as a scientist, not a woman scientist.”
Nandini doesn’t believe anything is holding back women from entering the field. She says, “It’s a myth that women aren’t interested in math and science.” She is a role model to all the girls out there with big aspirations. She tells them, “All of you should have a dream. But make sure you have a passion to drive that dream. It’s not going to be easy. You won’t always get success wherever you go. You have to be persistent. It may sound cliche, but that’s all it is.”
Nandini hopes in the future ISRO will open itself to students. She would like to see students involved with projects in space research. As of now, all graduates have to take a centralized exam to enter the organization.