If you have seen the Akshay Kumar Starrer first Bollywood movie on space science narrating a so-called “true story” of India’s journey to a Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) ‘Mission Mangal’, chances are that you now believe that women were at the centre of the mission and they did all the hard work to make us proud. But in this article, I will show you that it was not the case as the Director Jagan Shakti, Producer R Balki and the production companies Hope Productions, Fox Star Studios and Cape of Good films would want you to believe.
Myths Created by Mission Mangal
There are several myths created by Mission Mangal that projected a wrong history –
Myth 1: Mangalyaan Was Women Centric
If you have just watched the movie on an Independence Day morning, a time selected carefully around India’s successful rendezvous with moon in Chandrayaan 2 you must be feeling proud of ‘women scientists’ who did all the hard work for MOM mission apart from some male scientist represented by Akshay Kumar (name of scientist doesn’t matter here as the names were just representative ones). But let me tell you that the reality on the Mars Orbiter Mission (M.O.M.) was completely opposite, i.e. hardly any contribution from women scientists as I will explain later.
Myth 2: The Name MOM Because Someone Became Pregnant
Also let me tell you that if Mission Mangal had you believe that the name of the mission was selected as MOM after a woman scientist became pregnant and some creative member just like that selected Mars Orbiter Mission out of that acronym, you will be wrong again. Because these mission names are selected before the mission. The work for Mangalyaan mission started in 2012 and the name of the mission was also selected then. Mars Orbiter Mission, because that is the most natural English explanation of the mission’s objective.
Myth 3: Women Did All Calculations
Wrong!! Most of the complex mathematical calculations were done by the male scientists. It was Dr M Annadurai’s responsibility to design a low-cost Mars Orbiter Mission. He was the then Director of ISAC, ISRO and was also involved in Chandrayaan 1 mission and could help design a low-cost mission.
Efficient use of onboard payload including fuel was the concern of Dr A S Kiran Kumar who was an expert of worst-case scenarios and who monitored this with the help of V Kesava Raju, Mission Director who helped in fuel calculation and Dr Anil Bhardwaj, Director Space Physics Lab, VSSC who helped in deciding the actual payload of 15 KG that Mangalyaan carried with it.
Building the Artificial Intelligent (AI) system on Mangalyaan was the responsibility of S Arunan, Project Director of Mars Orbiter Mission.
Designing complicated flight dynamics and manoeuvres were the responsibility of B S Kiran Kumar, Associate Project Director, Flight Dynamics. He was an expert in mathematical modelling and helped ISRO overcome many challenges including the time when Mangalyaan faced a major roadblock during its fourth stage of ignition. When the satellite didn’t catch the intended velocity to come out of earth’s gravitational influence, it was his calculations that saved India’s mission to give it a much need thrust. So, you understand this didn’t happen just on the fly and within a few seconds.
Testing of Mangalyaan was carried out by the team of S Arunan. Remember, this was the most crucial team of the project that could make or break the mission over Mars. This is because all conditions that the Mars Orbiter Mission could face in outer space needed to be simulated on earth and tested well before the launch.
Myth 4: Women Scientists Overworked During the Mission
The movie shows that all women working in two shifts to make MOM successful. ISRO also clarified at different stages that all team members worked extra to make the mission successful. However, the movie only showed the women’s contribution whereas the main hard-working people were men. Given the tight timeline for this interplanetary mission, it was inevitable. However, S Arunan who was responsible for the entire mission and was overseeing the testing of Mangalyaan had continuously lived in ISRO satellite centre for 15 months. In an interview with Pallava Bagla, an NDTV science journalist and the author of the book “Reaching for the stars: India’s journey to Mars and beyond” and on an NDTV show, he said that. The requirement of testing was rigorous.
Myth 5: They were Women Scientists Associated with Mangalyaan
This viral photo that took rounds during the Mangalyaan mission of some women celebrating in ISRO office made people believe that they were ISRO women scientists was wrong. Mission Mangal team carried on this myth and they are continuing the same lie even today.
ISRO clarified then in a press release that they were their admin staff and not women scientists. To know more you can check this BBC News Link.
Now in order to show that women were the substantial force behind the Mangalyaan mission the movie carries on with the lie spread during the actual launch.
Myth 6: Scientists Discussed Sex, Virginity in off-hours
Mission Mangal would have made you believe that Indian women space scientists discuss sex, virginity, experience needed to have sex before marriage etc with their male colleagues and going to pubs and drinking n driving are the most happening things in the lives of ISRO scientists. Now many viewers like you may be thinking that when the ace scientists are doing this then what’s wrong in it and many youngsters will find nothing wrong in these ‘cool’ lifestyles.
Even though ISRO is open culture, that means even junior staff can ask uncomfortable scientific questions to top bosses, that doesn’t mean these men and women go to discuss sex or in their limited off-hours they hit pubs and night clubs. Even worse, the movie showed Vidya Balan’s husband driving his car after drinking in a pub, which is again setting a wrong example.
What Did Rocket Women Really Do?
Now let’s come to the point of actual contribution (if any) made by women in MOM or Mangalyaan mission. The two women who made any significant and noteworthy contribution as scientists (yes not as tea delivery admin staff or as sweepers) were Nadini Harinath who was the Deputy Operations Director, Mars Orbiter Mission and Ritu Karidhal – Deputy Operations Director, Mars Orbiter Mission. You may also find many other names popping up in many news channels and also at the end of the movie but in reality, none of them had any significant contribution compared to what is discussed here.
What Nadini and Ritu did for the mission was to ‘correctly’ navigate Mangalyaan in outer space to mars. In outer space keeping direction right is a challenge and our ancestral astronomers Aryabhatta and Baraha Mihir had achieved that centuries ago using primitive equipment. Nandini and Ritu used some stars as their benchmark to find out the way. The women in Mars Orbiter Mission or Mangalyaan mission also did the same using most modern equipment and also with the help of a loudmouth Antenna, placed in Pialallu near Bangalore. This antenna was however managed by the team of L Srinivasan, Deputy Director, GSNA.
The Myth of Eight Rocket Women Behind M.O.M.
You may find many articles in mainstream media about these 8 women being the main force behind the Mars Orbiter Mission. In fact, the web series Mission Over Mars (M.O.M.) is another feminist propaganda to show women as the main force behind Mangalyaan. So, it is important to analyze each woman’s (so-called) contribution –
- Minal Sampath (Systems Engineer)
- Anuradha TK (Program Director, ISRO Satellite Center)
- Ritu Karidhal (Deputy Operations Director, M.O.M.)
- Moumita Dutta (Project Manager)
- Nandini Harinath (Deputy Operations Director, M.O.M.)
- Kirti Faujdar (Contribution in M.O.M. unknown)
- N Valarmathi (Contribution in Mangalyaan unknown)
- Dr Tessy Thomas (Contribution in Mangalyaan unknown)
From the names and designations given above that feminists and mainstream media promotes as main contributors to Mangalyaan mission, you can easily understand who were relevant. Only the three names marked in bold were significant. Anuradha TK who was a very senior scientist was the director of ISRO Satellite centre. Now, ISRO satellites might be used for the launch but that doesn’t mean she had to do anything beyond her personal role. So, the main contribution (if any) comes only from two of the 8 rocket women mentioned above, Ritu Karidhal and Nandini Harinath and their contribution is already mentioned in the section above.
What did RTI Reveal About Contribution
Some RTI activists filed an RTI petition with ISRO asking for the details of significant contributors to India’s Mangalyaan mission. There were many such RTI applicants who basically asked the same set of questions to understand the most significant or outstanding contributors to the mission and ISRO has always said that it was a team effort that led to the success of Mars Orbiter Mission.
Mission Mangal – The Movie
If we just focus on the movie, Mission Mangal fails as a movie to me. It doesn’t generate enough curiosity about science missions rather it shows India’s space mission a Jugaad system. The selection of material for the craft, the design of the vehicle or even the last-minute decision taken about lift-off are all biggest put-off for any technology enthusiast.
Mission Mangal in this aspect failed to generate much-needed respect for country’s scientific scholars that they could innovate to such an extent that the world would copy them. The everyday science we use has Physics and Chemistry in them. The movie terribly fails in recognizing the fact. When the need to generate enough curiosity in young minds, the movie made our space technology a halua-puri science as if each of these were not well thought out.
The one overdramatic representation that I wanted to talk about was the all of a sudden decision taken to launch the vehicle after aborting the mission. As if, our space program is dependent on such impromptu decisions. All these don’t excite young minds, rather puts them off and they hardly know that it was not so.
Since ISRO director K Sivan’s name is used in the movie and Prime Minister Narendra Modiji is the minister for our Science and Technology, I would like to ask both of them –
‘Sir, the use of Prof Sivan’s name shows (to an ordinary person like me) ISRO’s approval to the movie the way it was shown. I knew that ISRO gives many benefits to women including but not limited to, marks relaxation, score benefits etc. Not sure if ISRO gives them easy promotion as well. But have you now started taking women who discuss sex and virginity in off-hours? Do you take women scientists who smoke cigerettes to get fresh air? Do your scientists engage in drunken street brawls? Do you now allow halua-puri to be fried in ISRO centres to understand the science behind it? If the answer of any of these questions is ‘No’, then how come ISRO director’s name appear in a movie degrading our scientists?”
When the need and expectation from the first Indian movie on Space technology to bring excitement in young minds about space science, show them how disciplined our scientists are and how much hard-working and dedicated they are for their country, Mission Mangal tried to show scientists as using expletives, Drinking alcohol land going to pubs (some however practice Kathakali or classical music), scientists traveling in Bangalore metro drunk and fighting with fellow passengers and sorts of Bollywood evils in our revered scientists. All these create more confusion in young minds about the good and bad of society. The unsuspecting minds will believe these to be true of our scientists and will indulge more into these habits and will still believe that they will be out future space scientists and will be able to deliver halua-puri science like this. Paramaanu stood out in these scientific aspects and being a movie on space science Mission Mangal’s failure was not expected (that doesn’t mean people will not watch it). Akshay and his team of show-off women gang failed to ignite right spots in young minds and hence I give this movie 1.5 star out of 5 stars.
- National Geographic documentary on Mangalyaan
- ISRO Archive
- DD National Archive
- NDTV Archive
- ISRO Admin staff – BBC News Link
- Mission Mangal was not as female-centric as Mission Mangal will show you – Business Insider
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