Who Is Vandi Verma? 10 Things To Know About The Roboticist Who Drove Perseverance to Mars

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Vandi Verma: Here are 10 things to know about the engineer who drove Perseverance to Mars with the software she co-wrote and developed.

NASA has accomplished another mammoth endeavour with the landing of Perseverance rover on Mars after a seven-month long journey in the space as well as after years of dedication by the team behind it. A noteworthy impression of the team of Mars 2020 mission is the presence of not only women scientists and engineers, but also of people from diverse backgrounds. Be it Indian-origin Swati Mohan leading the navigation last night from the front row or Colombia’s Diana Trujilo journey from cleaning homes to being the Mission Lead as well as hosting the first ever Spanish-language NASA transmission of a planetary landing last night, the team reflects the gradual erosion of all white-men domination of the agency.

Apart from Swati Mohan, there is another Indian woman who is a part of the team. Vandana ‘Vandi’ Verma is a renowned name in the space industry for her contribution as a space roboticist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and also for driving the Mars rovers, notably Curiosity and Perseverance. 

Credits: Pasadena Magazine

Here are 10 things to know about Vandi Verma:

  1. Dr. Vandi Verma was born and raised in Halwara, however she shifted from one city to another during childhood as her father was a pilot in the Indian Air Force. She did her schooling from Kendriya Vidyalaya, Halwara.
  2. She pursued her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh. Vandi then did her masters in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, followed by a Ph.D, also in robotics, from Carnegie Mellon in 2005. Her thesis was entitled Tractable Particle Filters for Robot Fault Diagnosis.
  3. Between her studies, she gained her pilot’s license.
  4. During her studies at CMU, she was involved in a 3-year astrobiology experimental station in the Atacama desert, South America. The desert was chosen because of the similarities between its hostile environment and the surface of Mars. At university, she also won a competition to create a robot that was capable of navigating a maze and collecting balloons. This intrigued her interest in robotics in unknown environments. Furthermore, she tested robotic technologies in the Arctic and Antarctic as a student there.
  5. In 2006, Vandi was one of the co-writers of PLEXIL, an open source programming language now used in many automation technologies of NASA. In fact, it was also used for driving Perseverance to Mars.
  6. Vandi joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2007, with a special interest in robotics and flight software and became a part of the Mars rover team in 2008. She was the group leader of Autonomous Systems, Mobility and Robotic Systems at JPL. She also worked on developing flight and flight simulation software systems used by Perseverance rover.
  7. Vandi has worked on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover projects since 2008. Hence, she has operated the previous other Mars rovers: MER-A Spirit, MER-B Opportunity and Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity.
  8. The Indian scientist loves her job. In an interview in 2012, she said, “I do realise that I possibly have one of the coolest jobs in the world.” On working with JPL, she told WFLA, “People are so passionate about space here at JPL. You’re working with people who just love what they do.”
  9. She has received a huge number of awards and accolades, such as six NASA Honors Awards and two MSL awards since 2008.
  10. Vandi appeared in and directed an episode of Nova ScienceNow called Can We Make It to Mars? In 2020, she appeared in the sixth episode of US Air Force documentary Science in the Extremes series 3, explaining her work on Mars’ surface for the 2020 mission. Furthermore, the Finnish director Minna Långström made a documentary about her and her work with the Mars rover Curiosity titled The Other Side of Mars (original Finnish title Mars kuvien takaa) in 2018.  [Feature Image Credits: Wikipedia]

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Who Is Vandi Verma? 10 Things To Know About The Roboticist Who Drove Perseverance to Mars
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