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Only the sky is the limit

August 18, 2011

Mail Today : Max Martin

The three- woman team at ISRO gears up for bigger challenges after launching GSAT- 12

When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969, T. K. Anuradha was still in primary school.

"The moon mission inspired me a great deal. My parents would tell me a lot about it,"says Anuradha.

This past week, as project director for the latest communication satellite of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Anuradha successfully manoeuvred GSAT- 12 into its final orbit through complex operations executed from the control facility in Hassan. For the first time, an allwomen team did the job at Hassan. And so, the space agency has now lined up many more tasks for them.

GSAT- 12 project director T. K. Anuradha, for instance, is already neck- deep into the next task: Leading the work on GSAT- 10, a much bigger communication satellite. Amid the busy schedule, she and her colleagues, GSAT– 12 mission director Pramodha Hegde and operations director Anuradha Sathya Prakasha spared a few moments to reflect on their career trajectory.


Growing up in Bangalore, Anuradha joined an electronic engineering course at the University Visvesvaraya College of Engineering."I was interested in science, and always wanted to join the space programme,"she said. She landed a job in the space agency, turning down an offer from the Indian Institute of Science ( IISc) to study Master of Science.

The first job was testing satellites at the Satellite Centre in Bangalore, and her boss was Prof U. R. Rao, who later served as the chairman of the agency from 1984 to 1994. Anuradha developed electronic equipment for satellites.

Even at that time, ISRO was not a bastion of male scientists and she never felt there was any glass ceiling."There were 10 ladies in engineering and we never felt ( any discrimination),"says Anuradha.

Nor was there any back home.

"We are four sisters and our parents were very supportive,"says Anuradha. Her father was a professor of Sanskrit, and her mother a homemaker."My mother used to give us a lot of inspiration. She would encour- age us to go ahead and compete in any field we wanted to."And that's what all her daughters did. The eldest became a doctor, and Anuradha's two younger sisters became electrical engineers. And Anuradha is married into a family in which everyone is fascinated by electronics.

Her husband is general manger at Bharat Electronics. Her eldest daughter is a computer science engineer in the US, and the second daughter is a student of electronic engineering.

Her advice:"You should not think that there is any limit to what you can do. If you want to do something, start developing a conducive atmosphere."


Hailing from Muroor, a remote village in Kumta taluk of Udupi district in Karnataka, Pramodha was also fascinated by the mysteries of space.

Her mother, who had received only primary education, supported her.

"My mother always used to say that ladies should study. And that they should go out, work, and stand on their own feet,"says Hegde. Her father was an arecanut farmer.

It was a hard life."But hardship helped me come up in life,"says Hegde, with no apparent regret.

After school, she went on to study electronics engineering from B V Bhoomaraddi College of Engineering & Technology in Hubli.

"No girl had done engineering from my village, though there were doctors."Pramodha also became the only one to move away from Udupi. Her eldest brother is a post master and the second a high school teacher. Her four elder sisters are housewives.

When she joined ISRO, her first job was at Hassan though she later moved to the satellite centre in Bangalore.

Pramodha's husband, a former ISRO engineer, has taken voluntary retirement and is working in Belgium. Her son is studying electronics and communication engineering.


The youngest of the lot, Anuradha S Prakasha, comes from Thrissur district of Kerala.

But her family too has its roots in Karnataka — Udipi district, to be precise. She went to school in West Bengal and earned her masters in physics from the Cochin University of Science and Technology.

"As a child I always liked physics and maths,"Prakasha says."I liked to explore how things worked."After her postgraduation, she joined ISRO."I just applied because there was an opening for scientists. It was my first interview."The first posting was in Bangalore at the satellite centre.

"Though there wasn't a glass ceiling, there were very few women earlier. More women engineers joined ISRO later,"she says. Prakasha says this could be because of the support ISRO provides to families and children. For Prakasha, like her two colleagues, science, engineering and medicine is a dominating influence in her family.

Her father is a doctor based in Irinjalakkuda, a small town in Thrissur. Her sister is a scientist at the National Aerospace Laboratory in Bangalore and her brother a doctor. Her husband is a software engineer.

Prakasha's advice to other women is to stay motivated.

Then there's nothing you can't achieve, she says.

(The views expressed above are the personal views of the author)

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