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Throwback: Up Close with the Women Behind India's Mars Orbiter Mission

Dec 14, 2016 08:24 AM EST

India has quite a reputation when it comes to how it treats women.

Perhaps this is why when the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) shared a photograph showing its women scientists dressed in colorful saris, complete with flowers tuck in their hair jubilant at the successful launch of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) back in 2014, it spread like wildfire in the Internet.

After the photo had gone viral, the Indian space agency later released a statement clarifying that the celebrating women in the photo were administrative staff, but went on to add that there indeed were several women scientists who had worked on the mission and were in the control room at the time of the launch, the BBC reports. 

Locally known as Mangalyaan, the MOM mission India's first trip to the Red Planet, a historical milestone not just for the South Asian nation, but for its women as well. "It was very important for India, not just for Isro. It's put us on a different pedestal, foreign countries are looking at us for collaborations and the importance and attention we got was justified. It was also the first time Isro allowed the public to look at what was happening inside, we were on social media, we had our own Facebook page, and the world took notice," Harinath told BBC's Geeta Pandey.

Women are significantly outnumbered in the male-dominated space agency. In an interview with Rocket Women in April, Deputy Operations Director of MOM Nandini Harinath said, "Women constitute only 20 percent of ISRO's 16,000-strong workforce, but female engineers are increasingly joining in. There's greater awareness and education among young women now. Parents are being supportive of their daughters pursuing careers."

A stark contrast to NASA's $671 million Insight Mission, MOM was amazingly designed, planned, and launched in a span of 15 months with a working budget of only $70 million.

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