Muthayya Vanitha
Muthayya Vanitha Image Credit: Twitter/@Aaravide

Chennai: M. Vanitha, Project Director of Chandrayaan-2 mission was named the top scientist to look out for in 2019 by Nature magazine. Vanitha is the first female Project Director of India's inter-planetary mission and one of the two women who managed the project - the other being mission director, Ritu Kridhal.

Vanitha's role as Project Director came with a hefty task sheet. The project director is fully responsible for the entire project from its inception till completion, and the mission director is a temporary functional leader who oversees the mission and coordinates with various agencies for seamless completion of the project.

"I joined here as junior-most engineer. So I worked in the laboratory, testing carts, making hardware, designing developing and then reached a managerial position," she told regional channel NDTV.

The Chandrayaan-2 is the second moon mission and the first moon landing mission to be carried out by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

18 hours of work daily

"Vanitha handled all her projects well and came up to Group Director level," M.Annadurai, former Director, U.R. Rao Satellite Centre (URSC) told IANS.

Initially she was reluctant to take up Chandrayaan-2 Project Director assignment, but Annadurai convinced her to take up the challenging assignment.

"I had to convince her and her husband. The task involved at least 18 hours of work daily and there was also the pressure of interacting with the top management on a daily basis as it was a prestigious mission," Annadurai said.

While Vanitha was involved in the Chandrayaan-2 project, her elevation came after Annadurai became the Programme Director for ISRO.

Initially, another person Nagesh was brought in as the Project Director for Chandrayaan-2. He was an expert in the mechanical side and was also involved in the Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellite projects which demanded focused attention, Annadurai said.

As more and more remote sensing satellite missions were there needing full time attention, Nagesh was made the full time Programme Director for IRS and Vanitha was made Chandrayaan-2 Project Director.

"I have seen her capability. She also met the challenge. In these major space missions, the cardinal rule is to have the spacecraft's weight to the proven lofting capacity of the rocket," Annadurai said.

Practicing what she learnt

Perhaps Vanitha is one of the few students from their class of 1985 who is continuing in the field of their graduation, said her classmates at the College of Engineering, Guindy here.

"At college, Vanitha was passionate about electronics communications. Many of us over a period of years moved away from the core subjects we studied in the college. But in her case it was not so," Ravichandran Purushothaman, President, Danfoss India told IANS.

"We felt very proud to read in the newspapers that she was heading the country's prestigious moon landing mission, Chandrayaan-2," Purushothaman added.

He said the news was shared with his classmates in the WhatsApp group and lots of congratulatory messages were shared.

"We were all thrilled on hearing the news. We knew she was with ISRO. But the news that she is leading the nation's prestigious mission was something that great. We all had the inkling that she would do something great," C. Natesan, her classmate and Managing Director, Precision Motors told IANS.

"Vanitha was studious and focused classmate," another classmate not wanting to be named in the report told IANS.

"Vanitha was like a nerd. She would talk about the subjects and topics like a story…she was also fun loving. We used to enjoy small harmless adventures like going to Tiger Caves, near Mamallapuram, Muttukadu boating house," D.Sashikala, Lead Member of Technical Staff at AT& T.

Despite being involved in the crucial operations relating to Chandrayaan-2, Vanitha did not forget Sashikala's birthday.

"On her way home late night Monday, Vanitha called and wished me on my birthday," Sashikala said. "I was so thrilled to read about her heading the Chandrayaan-2 mission. There is no other better person than Vanitha, I felt," Sashikala added.

Sashikala was immediately reminded of the English movie Hidden Figures that revolves around three Afro-American women working in the American space agency and their contribution. "Vanitha used to say that she is using at her workplace everything she studied in BE, which many of our classmates are not doing," Sashikala added.

- Inputs from IANS