The Woman On A Moon Mission: Meet Sheelika Ravishankar
Sheelika Ravishankar is part of India’s moon mission. A privately funded team that’s aiming to successfully place a robot on the Moon that explores at least 500 meters and transmits high-definition video and images back to Earth. All this before the end of next year.
It’s the stuff dreams are made of – what’s the reality of being on Team Indus, India’s first moon mission?
It’s every bit as exciting as you can possibly imagine, thanks to the sheer energy inherent in a mission like this.
We started off with no money, no knowledge, no team- It was about learning, struggling – a little like staring at Mount Everest from base camp and wondering how to go up? We always knew there was only one way and it was up
Today after 5 years it’s a Countdown timer we are staring at. An inspired team working tirelessly, guided by brilliant scientists. We are the point where Science meets Fiction: Science because we are really at the cutting edge of aerospace, Fiction because no one really expected a group of dreamers with no aerospace background to have reached this far.
The reality of what we are starting out to achieve is slowly dawning upon us. We find ways everyday to take our story and mission to as many people as we can touch, because that’s one way for us to give back.
If this is possible for us, we believe it is possible for every Indian. That’s why we believe our mission is truly #HarIndianKaMoonshot
The reality of Team Indus is you will never have everything to make your mission, but you will always have the never say die spirit and support from unheard of quarters to make you believe that this mission has to happen for the greater good of mankind.
Working on something that could make history, it’s not just star dust but real work – what makes a day for Team Indus?
Our days are like 1 moon day in fast forward (ie 29.5 earth days in one). This mission is about intricate planning and replanning. As it is in most young companies, there are multiple challenges – from technology to marketing, in people to finance. We work in various teams, each a curious mix of youth and expertise.
Our biggest challenge now is to fund this mission. We believe we have 95% + chance of making it to the moon, the challenge is how do privately fund it? A significant time these days is spent in getting our message out there and creatively engaging people to fund our mission.
They call you the Jedi Master for Marketing and Outreach, what gets you that recognition?
We are crazy about everything space – movies and space fiction inspire us big time. Attempting a moon mission is a bit crazy.. and when you are working in an environment with as many tech geeks and rocket scientists as TeamIndus, it is natural that there would be a high concentration of Star Wars fans. Ours is an unconventional mission, and our troops can’t be addressed by anything ordinary. Hence we sought to find inspiration in the movie and created designations for all which were inspired by the Star Wars franchise.
My role is to inspire people within our organisation and externally spread the message of our mission to a billion so that they chase their own moonshots – you need a Jedi Master to do just that.
What are your reactions when someone thinks that your mission might be audacious?
If I had a penny for every time someone asked what we were smoking when we signed up! We believe audacity is a great thing. We look at ourselves as a group of non-conformists who want to live the future today. When that’s your starting point, you have no choice but to be audacious. Once you have accepted the challenge, it’s about working your way through the challenges. It’s tough but not impossible.
You have attracted human capital from different parts of the country and from different industries – how is the task of converging ideas and conflicts that may arise?
We are about open Innovation and Culture. TeamIndus was formed in early 2011 and the initial focus was to build in a strong engineering foundation. We did this by creating what we call our secret sauce – bringing together the experience of technology wizards and combining it with the raw energy & enthusiasm of our young engineers. That along with the generous support we are getting from our partner and supplier ecosystem has brought us far. When the focus is singularly on the Mission, conflicts aren’t really a hindrance but a catalyst to arrive at optimum solution.
Do share with us how has the journey been for you to put the people together at Team Indus yet evolving with its ever changing needs?
We’ve been very privileged to attract some of the best and most passionate talent there is. I think it’s because of the mission and partly because of the culture we’ve managed to put together. Most including me joined the mission, inspired by what we could achieve. Very early in our lives we set on a path to define what our culture would be. This has played a crucial role in our evolution. Today everyone on our team is an ambassador of that culture and we guard this zealously.
We now have nearly 80 young engineers from the best of institutions from all over the country and they are guided by the wisdom of twenty retired ISRO scientists. Now that we have a settled engineering team, and as the Mission launch is coming closer, we are looking at hiring teams in other functions like marketing who will help us realise our dream of making this mission the most open space mission ever. Know anyone great?
Personally, what was it that you grew up wanting to be and how has that transformed?
For someone who had little interest in space growing up, my Twitter bio now reads “Rocket Scientist in the making” 🙂
Today I talk tech, I can discussion spacecraft configuration, design tradeoffs and explain the mission’s technical aspects. I’m learning rocket science. I work 24/7 totally obsessed by this mission. It’s a rich experience which oscillates between science, hr, marketing and fundraising all within 60 minutes. It’s fun. Its inspired my family and friends to rally around us.