Science

I do not think of my work as a woman scientist or a man scientist: S. Geetha

S Geetha   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“As an engineer in Control Design Division in Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) Thiruvananthapuram, it was my first project on September 20, 1993 for which I had done the autopilot design that guides the satellite into its pre-decided orbit. Imagine my disappointment, shock and anxiety when that launch, PSLV D I, failed,” recalls S Geetha, Programme Director, Space Transportation System at Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram. Even now her face mirrors that disappointment.

The next minute, with a smile, she asserts that she did not let that incident crash her dreams of making a career as a space scientist. “Instead, our team was involved in the analysis of what went wrong and that exercise turned out to be an opportunity to learn at close quarters how different teams worked in close coordination for a successful launch. That was an excellent way of learning. Once the next launch was a success, we moved ahead with other projects,” recalls the 58-year-old with a smile. Since then, Geetha has been flying high and is now one of the senior-most female scientists in VSSC.

“I am an engineer and scientist. I do not think of my work as a woman scientist or a man scientist. I have always wanted to work here, especially after my elder brother, G Ayyappan, began working in VSSC,” Geetha says.

Eye on goals

That determination and dedication resulted in her winning laurels and awards such as the ‘Best woman engineer in 2008’, ‘Best woman scientist in 2016’ and ISRO merit award in 2018 and so on. “One of the best aspects of VSSC is that right from the junior-most engineer to the senior-most scientists, every one is encouraged to contribute and work towards a goal. So all of us have a sense of ownership and team spirit. For a mission to be successful, several teams have to work together and there is a lot of planning that calls for accuracy and precision. Nothing should go wrong. Even then until the lift off takes places smoothly, we are all tense and on our toes. It is a critical moment and even though I have been part of several launches and seen quite a few, that tension and anxiety are as fresh as ever,” Geetha admits.

She breaks into a big smile when she recalls her first visit to Sriharikota and saw the PSLV at close quarters. “The feeling is indescribable. This is something we have also worked for and it is an impressive sight,” she says.

At present, she is responsible for programme planning and management of the PSLV, “the work horse of ISRO and prestigious GSLV Project of the country for injecting INSAT series of satellites in Geo Synchronous Orbits. The designs have been flight proven in 31 flights of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle [PSLV] and nine flights of Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle [GSLV],” she explains.

She says among the several duties of her team, taking care of the launch vehicle, choosing the best for the job, ensuring that it takes the satellite to its orbit and so on are just some the manifold functions of the team. When there is a goal to be met, Geetha says that she finds herself thinking about it even at home and then she jots down her thoughts on paper to take it up at a later stage.

  • National Science Day is observed on 28th February to commemorate the discovery of the ‘Raman Effect’ by Sir CV Raman on 28 February 1928. Science Week is also observed along with the National Science Day. The first National Science Day was celebrated on February 28, 1987.
  • The theme of National Science Day 2020 is ‘Women in Science’.

With 64 engineers comprising seven teams working with her, Geetha says she has to lead by example. She avers that it is the passion for their work that helps them overcome hurdles and meet any challenge.

“It is true that I was the first woman associate project director of a GSLV project but on the job, there is no thought about gender. One has to be technically competent,” she points out. Even then the fact remains that women comprise only 15 per cent of the scientific community in VSSC.

Role model

She says women have to express their views and participate in discussions. Geetha says in her case, her mother, Shakunthala, who retired as headmistress of Government School Vattiyoorkavu, was herself the best mentor and role model.

“I firmly believe that for a woman to be successful in her career, a support system is essential. In my case, my mother-in-law, also a teacher, was of great help while I was doing my postgraduation from the College of Engineering Trivandrum. When my daughter, Vineetha, now a student of visual communication in Chennai, was a baby, we again had wonderful people to help us,” Geetha says.

Looking back, she says with great candour that she never dreamt that one day she would drive a car, travel alone and lead a team. “I tell my team to dream high and work hard. What is exciting about our work is that it is never repetitive. There are innovations and it is exciting to see the designs and innovations you have suggested being implemented,” she explains before signing off to move on to the next meeting on her busy schedule.


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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 8:47:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/space-scientist-s-geetha-on-creating-her-own-space/article30931101.ece

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