The Great Indian woman scientist who will be sending humans in space: Dr. V R Lalithambika

Dr. Aparna Deshpande

V R Lalithambika – the lady for whom sky is no longer the limit but it’s the beginning of her aspirations. A renowned scientist working with the Indian space research organisation (ISRO), she has specialized in Advanced launcher technologies. At present she is designated as Distinguished Scientist, and Director, Directorate of Human Space Programme at ISRO, which is the nodal agency for defining goals and targets for Human Space Programme, and for synergizing the national effort in this direction. In her earlier position as Deputy Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, she was responsible for guidance and control design, mission analysis and integrated simulation activities of all ISRO launch vehicles and has played a major role in their success. She was also an active contributor to the Task Group which has formulated ISRO’s Vision 2020. On Independence Day the prime minister of India made an announcement about the India’s Human Space Flight Programme. The chief of ISRO, K Sivan immediately choose the exemplary woman Dr Latithambika  as a lead for the mission. Born in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala she grew up watching the sounding rockets launched at the Thumba centre of ISRO which was in close proximity of her house. It was then the thought of rockets and space innovations enthralled her. After completing her engineering graduation and post-graduation from Kerala she joined Vikram Sarabhai Space centre (VSSC) in 1988.  She completed her PhD from ISRO and was involved in the activities in initial crucial period where ISRO had just begun ingenious launch vehicle development. The initial few years were difficult as those were heady times for ISRO engineers as there first launch had failed. Just 3 months after her job joining she witnessed another failure of the launch vehicle which left her dumbfounded and indeed incited her to demonstrate her capabilities. After the first  unsuccessful attempt the second launch was scheduled just 13 months later. This demanded dual working hours  for the engineers to get their act together. She was able to understand that the mistake was in the software control and so she immediately took up the task of altering it. It was her hard work and understanding of the hitches which lead to the successful attempt of the launch vehicle. Finally, the attempt was successful with a lot work her team had put in to make sure that nothing was left unaddressed. She discreetly remembers this first successful Sept 93 launch of PSLV as one of the most prestigious events in her career. She was also the part of the classic Shriharikota launch of PSLV in October 1994. She played a critical role in getting the complex system right. The 1994 PSLV mission was a huge success, and so were its next 39 launches, leading it to being designated ‘the workhorse’ of ISRO. With due modesty she admits that this success had a lot to do with the learnings from the previous three failures.

Dr Latithambika is the recipient of many prestigious awards which include  the Space Gold Medal (2001), ISRO Individual Merit Award and ISRO Performance Excellence Award (2013). She has also won Astronautical Society of India award for excellence in launch vehicle technology.

After being nominated as the Head for the Human space flight program (HSP) by the Prime minister of India she very humbly dispenses her success to the  fellow engineers at ISRO. The work for this program will require a very proficient designing as it will cost a life unlike the other program which costs the failure of objectives. Also, a very strong national element is involved in this project which she is confident to accomplish. Sending astronauts requires  the rocket design which can carry much heavy payload. From the past launch experiences of GSLV LVM -III in 2014 and GSAT-19 satellite in June 2017 which were headed by Dr Latithambika will prove to be helpful in the HSP program.

Lalithambika says she is lucky to work in an organization which nurtures and encourages growth of the people inside with a very liberating atmosphere. Also ,she accepts the reality that it is difficult to do justice to work as well as family obligations without a very strong support system.  She describes about the crucial launch days where they have to stretch themselves to keep to the timeframe. There are personal sacrifices, but those are done with pleasure. In terms of how men and women are treated, she fervently believes that ISRO is leaps ahead. She pointed out that the safety and security of women is paramount in the institution. We at team S&T digital wish her a streak of luck for her most awaited HSP program.

3 thoughts on “The Great Indian woman scientist who will be sending humans in space: Dr. V R Lalithambika”

  1. Ankush Kularkar

    Very motivating…

    Hearing such incredible stories pushes me to take on failular after watching the webseries “Rocket Boys.”

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Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar

Dr. Mashelkar is only the third Indian engineer to have been elected (1998) as Fellow of Royal Society (FRS), London in the twentieth century. He was elected Foreign Associate of US National Academy of Science (2005) and also National Academy of Engineering (2003), Associate Foreign Member, American Academy of Arts & Sciences (2011), Fellow of Royal Academy of Engineering, U.K. (1996), Foreign Fellow of Australian Technological Science and Engineering Academy (2008), Corresponding Member of Australian Academy of Sciences (2017), Fellow of World Academy of Arts & Science, USA (2000), Fellow of US National Academy of Inventors (2017), the first ever Indian from India to be elected and TWAS-Lenovo Science Prize (2018), which is the highest science award of The World Academy of Science.

In 2006, he received the ‘Star of Asia’ Award at the hands of former President of USA, George Bush (Sr). The President of India honoured Dr. Mashelkar with three of the highest civilian awards, namely Padmashri (1991), Padmabhushan (2000) and Padma Vibhushan (2014).

Prof. Satishchandra Ogale

Prof. Satishchandra B. Ogale has had a long 40 years of experience in higher education and research.  He has over 500 publications in international journals, three co-edited books with Springer, Wiley and Elsevier, and 10 granted US patents based on research done in India. 
He is a Reviewer as well as Advisory Board member of many high impact International Journals and is also a popular science writer in regional language marathi.
He has won many Awards, Prizes, and National and International recognitions. He has given numerous invited, plenary and keynote talks in National and International conferences and has supervised over 65 Ph.D. students. 
Prof. Ogale has been a Visiting Professor/ Scientist in many institutions in the USA and Europe on several occasions.

Anupama Engineer

She has previously worked as a Scientist at Agharkar research Institute and at higher management level at Thomas Baker Bioscience Private Limited. She has also taught graduate and post graduate students in Biotechnology & Microbiology during her tenure as a lecturer in Royal College, Mumbai and as a Counselor for IGNOU Biotechnology course. Anupama, is a multitasker with few roles like, entrepreneur, Scientist, manager, a doting mother and many more. Teaching and educating is her passion and she takes every effort to encourage fundamental learning. Anupama holds a vast experience in Start-up processes.

Dr Smita Chaturvedi
Smita is an experimental condensed matter physicist. The quest for multifunctional materials motivates her. Smita finished her PhD from RDVV Jabalpur and BARC Mumbai in the year 2002 and worked as a research associate in IIT Mumbai and Oakland University, Michigan. Smita was awarded as a Fulbright Nehru Academic and Professional excellence fellow in 2018-19. Smita holds more than a decade of research and teaching experience. She possesses good knowledge about education system and research opportunities in India as well as abroad. Music and gardening are her mindful meditations.
Dr. Priyadarshini Karve
Dr Priyadarshini Karve has worked in the areas of household energy, decentralised waste-to-fuel technologies, climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable and climate-ready urbanisation, etc. She runs her own social green enterprise Samuchit Enviro Tech in Pune, focused on enabling access to sustainable products and services. She is also a co-founder of OrjaBox, a startup promoting solar thermal technologies. Dr Karve is a Founder Member of Clean Energy Access Network (CLEAN - a multi-state society of decentralised renewable energy practitioners and entrepreneurs) and Cleaner Cooking Coalition (CCC - an international organisation focused on promoting user-centric cooking energy technologies that are good for health as well as climate). She is also the National Convener of Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC - focused on climate justice issues and working to bring people's voices in policy choices). Her work has been recognised by several national and international awards and honours.
Sanjay Khare
Sanjay Khare ,after his graduation in Electrical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, in 1986 has been associated with major Japanese & European Automotive OEMs in Indian Subcontinent for 35 years . Widely travelled across Europe & Asia , he has held positions across diverse functions of Automotive Corporations.
In his current role as Board Member and Vice President at Skoda Auto Volkswagen India , he is Chief Sustainability Catalyst to guide actions at Skoda Auto Volkswagen India along with the sister brands Audi, Porsche & Lamborghini.
He leads an active Climate Resilience program where the automotive major in India has already achieved Zero Waste to Landfill, Water Positive & Zero liquid Discharge Certification, Zero Accidents , targeting an 18.5 MW of installed Roof Top Solar plant at a single Automotive site in India in 2021 and fully Carbon Neutral Production by 2025.
Sanjay has done his Executive MBA from Management development Institute ,Gurgaon specialising in Strategy & Marketing . He has active interests in driving Cultural Change, Competency building , Human Motivation topics while adopting/ innovating the technological advancements and total quality revolution.He is also a Qualified Independent Director registered with Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Govt. of India. An active speaker on Automotive & Sustainability topics on National & International forums.
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