Mission Mangal: A voice for women who aimed for Mars

It took Vaid almost three years to complete the book. The part that took up most amount of time was the research and getting permission from ISRO to interview the scientists.

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“How did women scientists manage both home and project Mangalyaan together?” This is the most frequently-asked question that author Minnie Vaid has faced in context to her last published book, The Magnificent Women and their Flying Machine. “With a lot of ground support,” she says, as the scientists term it this way. In a recently held interaction at Art Etc-Oregionally Indian in Indiranagar, Vaid tells CE about stories of women scientists who were behind the launch of Mangalyaan.

During a women’s empowerment summit in 2016, Vaid listened to Ritu Karidhal, one of the space scientists who worked on the Mangalyaan project, “We worked during the day and night, we went back home to take care of our respective families, and also sent a rocket to mars,” Karidhal said. The ‘matter of fact’ attitude of the scientists ignited the idea of profiling them.

“All my perceptions about them were shattered when I started meeting them for my research. Of course I had a stereotypical image of them but they turned out to be regular people who are juggling work and families together,” says Vaid, who is also a journalist and documentary filmmaker.

She also mentioned that the scientists were completely taken aback when she expressed her desire to pen down their stories. It took Vaid almost three years to complete the book. The part that took up most amount of time was the research and getting permission from ISRO to interview the scientists.

“The primary research was fun but when it came to the secondary one, there were hardly any data available on women scientists in ISRO. Nobody had thought of mapping them. Basic questions like how many women were there when ISRO began or how many women scientists were there in the 80s, were left unanswered,” said Vaid, who followed up with ISRO for almost four and a half months to get permission for the interviews. She says her journalistic training helped her cope with rejections.

When it comes to scientists, the gender gap is huge, said Vaid. However, when it comes to work performance, there is no discrimination for the women scientists. “Only 20 per cent of ISRO scientists are women. But there is a lot more awareness now. The conditioning should start in a family. When I was growing up, I was also told science and maths is not for girls even though my mother did her masters in mathematics,” she added.

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