MELBOURNE/MUMBAI: When the Perseverance rover starts rolling on Mars, possibly next week, an Indian might be among 14 at the console. “It’s a short forward drive, followed by a turn and a backup (backward drive),”
, chief engineer of
2020 robotic operations, told TOI.
“Since this is the first drive, we will split it into segments and collect a lot of data and imaging for analysis.” The daughter of an IAF fighter pilot, Verma was born at
and kept moving. “I grew up around airplanes,” she said. “When I got my pilot’s licence in the US, I didn’t tell my mom. She wouldn’t want me to do anything dangerous.
When I was growing up, the IAF would not take in women. In Pittsburgh, Iflew a lot … even in
.” “When I was seven, I was gifted a book on space and astronomy. Then, I’d go to the library after school, pick a book about space and astronomy, climb a tree and read,” she said.
She got her PhD in robotics at the Carnegie-Mellon University in 1994 and started “driving” on Mars in 2008 — Spirit,
, Curiosity and, now, Perseverance. “Driving a rover is a lot of fun! You have to have the mindset of an explorer, an engineer and that of a roboticist,” said Verma. “You think of all obstacles it’ll encounter —like the rover slipping… We don’t get second chances.”