You might have seen her in the front row of the control room, bindi on her forehead, providing constant updates to the team as mission commentator for the historic landing. But before that nail-biting moment, Mohan had been working for years to make it all happen.
Mohan, an Indian American who moved to the United States when she was a year old, is the guidance and controls operations lead for the Perseverance rover mission, acting as the “eyes and ears” for NASA’s most sophisticated spacecraft to date.
Not only is Mohan a pivotal player in the effort to determine whether there was ever life on the red planet; she’s also a reflection of the progress NASA has made in reflecting the nation it represents.
Her passion for space started with ‘Star Trek’
Mohan has been interested in space ever since she saw her first “Star Trek” television episode at age 9. It opened up her world to the beauty and expanse of the universe.
Still, she thought she would grow up to become a pediatrician. It wasn’t until she took her first physics class at age 16 that she began considering a career in engineering, which would allow her to follow her childhood dreams of exploring space.
Mohan went on to study mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University, followed by a masters degree and doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Eventually, she landed at NASA.
She started working on the Mars 2020 mission in 2013, and ultimately became the lead engineer for guidance, navigation and controls operations. She helmed the mission’s attitude control system, which helps make sure the spacecraft is heading in the direction it needs to be.
“During the cruise phase heading toward Mars, our job is to figure out how we are oriented, make sure the spacecraft is pointed correctly in space (solar arrays to sun, antenna to Earth), and maneuver the spacecraft to get it where we want to go,” Mohan explained in a NASA Q&A. “During entry, descent, and landing on Mars, GN&C determines the position of the spacecraft and commands the maneuvers to help it land safely.”
This was a diverse mission
It wasn’t just Mohan, either.
There is still progress to be made, but NASA’s workforce now looks much more like the nation.
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