Who Is Swati Mohan? NASA Scientist Who Commentated on Mars Rover Landing Gains New Fans

An Indian American engineer who played a key role in the successful landing of NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars Thursday has been celebrated on social media.

Swati Mohan is the guidance, navigation, and controls (GN&C) operations lead for the Mars 2020 mission, based out of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

During the dramatic descent and landing phase, Mohan provided updates on the mission, with her comments broadcast around the world as part of NASA's live stream of the historic event.

In fact, the engineer was the first to confirm that the rover had survived its tricky descent through the thin Martian atmosphere and touched down successfully on the surface of the red planet.

"Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life," Mohan announced after the landing, as cheers erupted in the mission control room.

Numerous people took to social media to praise Mohan during and after NASA's coverage of the landing.

"Congratulations @DrSwatiMohan on the Perseverance Rover landing. It was great to hear your updates & explanation last night during the final hr of #MarsLandingon@NASATV," Sangita Reddy, joint managing director of the Apollo Hospitals Group in India, wrote in Tweet.

Meanwhile, Vanderbilt University astrophysicist Karan Jani tweeted: "Dr. Swati Mohan (@DrSwatiMohan) has inspired a new generation of scientists today."

Dr. Swati Mohan (@DrSwatiMohan) has inspired a new generation of scientists today. πŸ‘πŸ½πŸ‘πŸ½πŸ‘πŸ½ #Mars2020 pic.twitter.com/9oJY2wx3wF

— Dr. Karan Jani (@AstroKPJ) February 18, 2021

Quartz journalist Annalisa Merelli tweeted: "Update, that's@drswatimohan,@NASAPersevere's Guidance & Controls Operations Lead, and I am starting a fan club. What a queen."

Update, that's @drswatimohan, @NASAPersevere's Guidance & Controls Operations Lead, and I am starting a fan club.

What a queen: https://t.co/stnz9KPOy0 https://t.co/JZfAzLltLv

— Annalisa Merelli (@missanabeem) February 18, 2021

"I am so proud to be Indian today. Congratulations @DrSwatiMohan and team! ALL GO-GETTERS! What an achievement @NASAJPL!" Shinjini Das, CEO at The Das Media Group based in Los Angeles, said in a tweet.

I am so proud to be Indian today. Congratulations @DrSwatiMohan and team! ALL GO-GETTERS! What an achievement @NASAJPL! πŸš€πŸš€πŸš€πŸš€https://t.co/oXFzDAN57m

— Shinjini Das (@SpeakerShinjini) February 19, 2021

Prior to the landing, Mohan provided several updates on the status of the rover. For example, at one point she said: "The spacecraft Perseverance is currently transmitting heartbeat tones. These tones indicate that Perseverance is operating normally and has nothing significant to report."

Mohan led the attitude control system of the Mars 2020 mission during its nearly seven-month, 293-million-mile journey, and was also the lead systems engineer throughout the development phase.

The GN&C subsystem is the "eyes and ears" of the spacecraft, according to Mohan.

"During the cruise phase heading toward Mars, our job is to figure out how we are oriented, make sure the spacecraft is pointed correctly in space (solar arrays to sun, antenna to Earth,) and maneuver the spacecraft to get it where we want to go," she said in her NASA bio.

During the entry, descent and landing (EDL) phase of the mission—which began at the top of the Martian atmosphere and ended after what NASA engineers describe as the "seven minutes of terror" with the successful touchdown—GN&C determines the position of the spacecraft and commands the maneuvers that enable it to land safely.

"As operations lead, I am the primary point of communication between the GN&C subsystem and the rest of the project," Mohan said.

The tricky, seven-minute-long Mars EDL phase is conducted autonomously by Perseverance. This is because it takes around 11 minutes for a radio signal from Mars to reach Earth, given the distance between the two planets around this time.

"All the information we receive from Perseverance actually happened 11 minutes ago, so the round trip is 22 minutes for us to send a command to Perseverance and hear back on the ground that she's received that command," Mohan said during the NASA live stream.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, shows the estimated life-cycle costs of Mars missions.

Mars mission costs

Mohan said she actually wanted to be a pediatrician until she was about 16 years old. Although she had always been interested in space, she didn't really know what kind of job opportunities existed in the field. But this changed when she was 16 years old.

"When I was 16, I took my first physics class. I was lucky enough to have a great teacher, and everything was so understandable and easy. That was when I really considered engineering, as a way to pursue space," she said in her bio.

"I remember watching my first episode of 'Star Trek' at the age of 9, and seeing the beautiful depictions of the new regions of the universe that they were exploring. I remember thinking 'I want to do that. I want to find new and beautiful places in the universe.' The vastness of space holds so much knowledge that we have only begun to learn."

Swati Mohan emigrated from India to the United States when she was one. She has a B.S. from Cornell University in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, and an M.S. and Ph.D from MIT in Aeronautics/Astronautics.

She has worked on previous NASA missions, including Cassini and GRAIL. She has been involved with the Mars 2020 project since 2013.

NASA engineer Swati Mohan
Swati Mohan is the Guidance, Navigation, and Controls (GN&C) Operations Lead for the Mars 2020 mission. NASA