NASA Mars scientists spur girls to ‘reach for the stars’
“It’s definitely inspired girls everywhere. It’s opened people’s perceptions of who can be a space engineer,” Verma told Reuters ahead of International Women’s Day on Monday.
The space roboticist is operating the Perseverance – the most advanced astrobiology lab ever sent to another world – as it roams Mars looking for signs of ancient microbial life.
“I really think I have one of the coolest jobs in the world,” said Verma, whose interest in space – like Mohan’s – was fueled by a childhood love of the TV series Star Trek.
“When Mars is visible in the sky you look at that little dot and you think right now there’s a robot out there doing commands that I told it to do. That’s pretty wild.”
Verma, who has been driving rovers on Mars since 2008, said the latest mission would help answer questions “that change what we know about our place in the universe.”
Born in India, Verma studied electrical engineering at Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh before moving to the United States, where she gaining a PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University.
When she joined NASA in 2004, female engineers often found themselves the only woman in the room, she said. But things are changing.
NASA, which aims to land the first woman on the moon by 2024, is on a mission to boost diversity. Women made up 34% of the workforce in 2019, holding 18% of senior scientific posts, about treble the figure for 2009, according to the agency.
Verma said it was very exciting to see an increasing number of applications from women, adding that diverse teams led to more “creative, out-of-the-box thinking.”