WASHINGTON: As Perseverance, the NASA rover, landed on the Martian surface Friday, millions of miles away in the US space agency’s control room, a woman’s voice rang out: “Touchdown confirmed!”
The announcement was from Indian-American scientist Swati Mohan who leads the guidance, navigation, and control operations of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. In her role as flight controller, Mohan played a pivotal role in the landing of the historic craft.
Mohan was the first to confirm that the rover had successfully touched down on the Martian surface after surviving a particularly tricky plunge through the atmosphere of the Red Planet.
Congratulations to @DrSwatiMohan, Guidance, Navigations and Control Operations Lead for @NASAPersevere. Proud moment for India and the world. Thrilled to see @NASAJPL and its scientists break new frontiers in science and expand our scope of knowledge. pic.twitter.com/XuqGq0BsZ8— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) February 19, 2021
“Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking signs of past life,” Mohan announced, prompting her colleagues at NASA to fist-bump and break into celebrations.
Mohan, who emigrated from India to the US when she was only a year old, said the Guidance, Navigation, and Controls Operations (GN&C) are the “eyes and ears” of the spacecraft.
Commenting on her team’s role in the current mission, Mohan said their job during the cruise phase heading towards Mars was to figure out how the spacecraft is oriented, and make sure it is pointed correctly in space—“solar arrays to sun, antenna to Earth, and maneuver the spacecraft to get it where we want to go”, she is quoted as saying in her bio page on the NASA website.