NASA Mars women scientists tell girls to reach for the stars

NASA rover operator Vandi Verma hopes women's high profile in the latest Mars mission will inspire a new generation to pursue careers in a sector traditionally dominated by men.

Verma's colleague Swati Mohan made headlines around the world when she narrated the nail-biting landing of the Perseverance rover on the Red Planet following its perilous descent through the Martian atmosphere.

Verma said to Reuters ahead of International Women's Day on Monday, It's definitely inspired girls everywhere. It's opened people's perceptions of who can be a space engineer.

The space roboticist is operating the Perseverance, the most advanced astrobiology lab ever sent to another world as it roams Mars looking for signs of ancient microbial life.

Verma said, i really think I have one of the coolest jobs in the world. When Mars is visible in the sky you look at that little dot and you think right now there's a robot out there doing commands that I told it to do. That's pretty wild. The latest mission would help answer questions that change what we know about our place in the universe. It was very exciting to see an increasing number of applications from women, adding that diverse teams led to more creative, out of then box thinking. There was a long way to go to encourage more women into the STEM professions science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Born in India, Verma studied electrical engineering at Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh before moving to the United States, where she gaining a PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University. When she joined NASA in 2004, female engineers often found themselves the only woman in the room, she said. But things are changing.

British space engineer Vinita Marwaha Madill founder of Rocket Women which aims to inspire women to choose STEM careers, said role models were vital. You can't be what you can't see and astronaut Sally Ride, the first US woman in space. Seeing someone that looks like you allows you to believe that it's possible to achieve your goals. Women like Mohan, the Mars mission's guidance and operations lead will inspire the next generation to reach for the stars.

Marwaha Madill, whose own passion took flight after watching Helen Sharman become the first British astronaut in space in 1991. In Britain, women make up about a quarter of people working in STEM subjects excluding medicine and related fields where women outnumber men, according to WISE, an organization campaigning to increase the number of women in STEM professions.

Marwaha Madill, a project manager at a space exploration and robotics company in Ottawa, Canada, said it was crucial to change stereotypes as many girls decided to move away from science as young as 11 years of age.

NASA which aims to land the first woman on the moon by 2024 is on a mission to boost diversity. Women made up 34% of the workforce in 2019 holding 18 percent of senior scientific posts, about treble the figure for 2009, according to the agency. For engineering, the ratio is even more skewed with women accounting for just over 10 percent of the workforce.


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