NASA's Perseverance, the largest and most advanced science rover, touched down on Mars Thursday, February 18. When it landed safely on the floor of a vast crater, it was an Indian-American scientist handling the controls and landing system—Swati Mohan.
Mohan is the guidance and control operations lead for the historic Mars 2020 mission. She has been in charge of making sure that the spacecraft carrying the rover is oriented in the right direction. The NASA scientist also provided much of the commentary from mission control during the entry, descent and landing on the Martian surface.
"Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking signs of past life," announced flight controller Mohan.
Mission managers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory burst into applause and cheers after radio signals confirmed that the six-wheeled most advanced rover had survived its perilous descent and arrived within its target zone inside Jezero Crater.
Swati Mohan: The NASA JPL Engineer
Mohan has been associated with NASA's Perseverance Mars mission 2020 since its beginning in 2013. She communicated and coordinated between the Guidance, Navigation, & Control Systems and other teams of the milestone project.
Before joining the Perseverance team, Mohan also worked on NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn.
As Mohan walked the world through the steps of slowing down the spacecraft carrying the rover from over 12,000 miles per hour to make a soft landing on Mars, social media users could not resist talking about the Indian-American scientist.
Mohan emigrated from India to the US when she was just one year old. When she announced each step of Perseverance's journey, along with a mask, a small bindi—a colored dot worn by Indian women on the forehead—could be seen when Mohan was in mission control.
A social media user wrote: "I wore a bindi through primary school and got bullied, physically bullied for it. Swati Mohan in mission control, thank you."
Another wrote on Twitter: "Dr. Swati Mohan has inspired a new generation of scientists today."
The Journey of Perseverance Rover
The Mars 2020 mission was launched July 30 last year from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. On Thursday, the Perseverance rover arrived within its target zone inside Jezero Crater after a 203-day journey traversing 293 million miles.
The rover will scour the Jezero region for fossilized remains of ancient microscopic life on the planet. This mission is the first step in the effort to collect samples from the red planet and return them to Earth. Scientists hope to find biosignatures embedded in samples that Perseverance is designed to extract from Martian rock.
Steve Jurczyk, who is the acting NASA Administrator, said: "This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the US, and space exploration globally – when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks."
"The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation's spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet."