As the world witnessed NASA’s Perseverance rover land on the Martian surface in a historical moment, it was the Indian-American scientist, Dr. Swati Mohan who was heard saying “Touchdown confirmed. Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars.” Soon the netizens erupted into their quest to know who the bindi-clad composed woman was right on the front and center of the Perseverance rover landing on Mars surface.

Who is Dr. Swati Mohan?

Dr. Swati Mohan is an Indian-American scientist who successfully oversaw the attitude control and landing system of the Perseverance rover. She was one of the key individuals in the core team of scientists that made this mission a success.

What was Dr. Swati’s role in the Perseverance rover Mars landing?

According to NASA, Swati was the Mars 2020 Guidance, Navigation, Controls (GN&C) Operations Lead. Swati said the GN&C system that she oversaw is the spacecraft’s “eyes and ears”.

During the cruise phase, when the rover heads straight through into the Mars’ atmosphere, it was Swati and her team’s job to figure out how the rover was oriented, make sure that the spacecraft was pointed in the current direction, and eventually maneuver the spacecraft. During all three stages of the mission: entry, descent and landing, GN&C constantly handled the position of the spacecraft and commanded it to land it safely.

As the lead of the entire operation, Dr. Swati was the primary POC (point of communication) between the GN&C subsystem and other modules of the project. She was also responsible for training the entire GN&C team, scheduling the mission control staffing and forming procedures that GN&C used in the mission control room.

What was Dr. Swati’s childhood and schooling like?

Swati emigrated from India to the United States when she was just 1 year old. Her childhood was spent in Northern Virginia-Washington DC. Surprisingly till she was about 16 years old, Swati wanted to be a pediatrician.

Although she was interested in space, she was never clear about the opportunities that could turn her interest into a job. She credited her high school Physics teacher saying, “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.”

Her love for all things space goes back to the classic American science fiction show ‘Star Trek’. She got fascinated about space when she watched an episode of Star Trek at the age of 9. “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,” said Dr. Swati in her profile interview for NASA.

Later, she completed her Bachelors in Science from the Cornell University in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. She went on to get her MS and PhD from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her Masters was done in the field of Aeronautics while her PhD came under Astronautics.

What else has Dr. Swati Mohan worked for other than Perseverance?

According to NASA, prior to work for the GN&C subsystems of the Perseverance rover, Mohan worked on multiple missions such as mission to Saturn named Cassini, and GRAIL (a spacecraft formation flown to Earth’s only satellite, Moon). Since 2013, Swati has persevered towards one goal: working for the Mars 2020 mission that finally came to a fruitful execution yesterday.