Women can’t be left out when the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launches yet another dream: sending astronauts into space.
In fact, women scientists and engineers have played a key role in designing the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III that will lift off from Sriharikota in a few days, carrying a crew capsule without astronauts.
As it is only an experimental mission, the capsule will return 20 minutes after the blast-off.
“The development of the GSLV Mk-III (LVM3) started in 2002. Then on, many women have played different roles in the project,” says S. Somanath, its project director, as he showed the crew module at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SHAR) at Sriharikota.
There are many noteworthy women among the 600 engineers at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre and the SHAR who developed the rocket in phases.
The digital auto pilot (DAP), the software that controls the rocket, was designed by V.R. Lalithambika and her team. D.S. Sheela is the group director; V. Brinda is the head of the Control Design Division; and Manju Unnikrishnan and Rani designed the onboard software and its integration.
The simulation of the flight of LVM3 requires special software. S. Anitha, A. Sreelatha and Jayachithara are among the seniors who worked on the software.
B. Valsa is an expert in software engineering and deputy director responsible for the system reliability of the VSSC. “She and her team, comprising 200 engineers and other technical staff, are responsible for the quality and reliability of the systems as well as testing,” says Mr. Somanath.
“On an average, 40-50 women would have worked in different phases of this project…"
Structural designer A.P. Beena, along with her young colleague Geethu Abraham and others, designed the Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE) structure for this mission. “Beena has designed the propellant tanks of the L110 stage of LVM3,” Mr. Somanath notes.
Rachel SKD, a veteran in structural design, has earlier designed many structures of the PSLV and the GSLV. For LVM3, she and her colleagues have designed the most critical structures, very complex in design.
“At every juncture of this project, women scientist have added value [to it] and given us ideas and inputs. R. Neetha is head of the Structural Dynamics Division, which is responsible for evaluating the rocket structures to dynamic loading. They carry out response studies to find out whether the vibration levels in rocket while in flight is within the specified limits,” Mr. Somanath says.
There is a younger crop of scientists and engineers, too. Many women engineers who joined in recent years from the premier institutes in the country are working on the assembly and testing of the rocket system, at test stands and in the vehicle launch complex as engineers.
Once the GSLV Mark III’s capsule, the size of a small bedroom, returns to earth with the help of three large parachutes, these women scientists, along with their male colleagues at the ISRO, will begin building on yet another complex, but cherished, dream — India’s Human Space Flight Programme.