Vanitha: From a studious pupil to managing India's prestigious moon landing mission

By Venkatachari Jagannathan

Chennai, Aug 20 (IANS) Perhaps M. Vanitha, Project Director of Chandrayaan-2 mission, 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.

Vanitha is the first female Project Director of India's inter-planetary mission.

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

"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 used to And 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.

Apart from reading the text books, Vanitha also read lots of novels during her college days.

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.

At ISRO, Vanitha has earned the reputation for handling the data sent by Indian remote sensing satellites and managing a team of about 60 officials.

"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 Vanitha was reluctant to take up Chandrayaan-2 Project Director assignment.

But it was Annadurai who 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.

Though 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.

According to him, initially the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft was to be flown by Geosychronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark II (GSLV Mk II) which a carrying capacity of about 2.5 ton.

The spacecraft weight was also restricted to that.

However, the spacecraft's specifications changed with newer features getting added and its weight went up to 3.8 ton which in turn needed GSLV Mk III rocket that can loft 4 ton, Annadurai said.

He said Vanitha met the challenge of specifications changing successfully as the Project Director.

On July 22, the Chandrayaan-2 was injected into an elliptical orbit of 170x45,475 km by India's heavy lift rocket GSLV Mk III in a text book style.

The spacecraft comprises three segments -- the Orbiter (weighing 2,379 kg, eight payloads), the lander 'Vikram' (1,471 kg, four payloads) and rover 'Pragyan' (27 kg, two payloads).

--IANS

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