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Meet Indian-American Mohan who announced Mars landing

“Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life,” Mohan announced on Thursday as scientists in the mission control room of the US space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory erupted in cheers.
NASA's Dr Swati Mohan.(Twitter/@NASA)
Published on Feb 20, 2021 02:10 AM IST
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Eleven minutes after touchdown, American scientist of Indian origin Dr Swati Mohan announced to her colleagues that Nasa’s rover, Perseverance, had landed successfully on planet Mars.

“Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life,” Mohan announced on Thursday as scientists in the mission control room of the US space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory erupted in cheers.

By the time the Nasa scientist made the announcement at 02:29am IST (Friday), Perseverance was on the Martian surface for 11 minutes – the time it takes to receive a message from Mars to Earth. It was Mohan who was responsible for the descent and landing of the rover through the thin Martian atmosphere, described by Nasa scientists as “seven minutes of terror”. And it came through. The rover — which will for the next one Martian year (or 687 Earth days) look for proof of ancient microbial life -- successfully landed near the Jezero crater.

Mohan, who was the Guidance, Navigation, and Controls (GN&C) Operations Lead for the mission, explained in a video from 2019: “If we didn’t have Terrain Relative Navigation, the probability of landing safely at Jezero Crater is about 80 to 85%. But with Mars 2020, we can actually bring that probability of success of landing safely at Jezero Crater all the way up to 99% safe every single time.”

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The Terrain Relative Navigation is a new technology used by the rover to photograph the Martian surface while descending through the atmosphere with a parachute and determining a safe landing site.

Mohan has been working on the Mars mission for the last eight years. She has previously worked on Nasa’s Cassini mission to planet Saturn and the GRAIL mission to the moon.

Mohan, born in Bengaluru, came to the US at the age of one and was raised in Northern Virginia and Washington DC. She studied mechanical engineering at Cornell University, and completed her masters and doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But it wasn’t always her dream to explore space. Till the age of 16, she wanted to be a paediatrician. It took a physics teacher and her love for Star Trek that triggered her interest in discoveries of the universe.

“Actually, I wanted to be a paediatrician until I was about 16 years old. I was always interested in space, but I didn’t really know about opportunities to turn that interest into a job. I remember watching the first episode of Star Trek at 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,” she was quoted as saying by Nasa profile of Mars2020 scientists.

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