Aditya L1 Mission : Meet the woman behind ISRO’s Sun mission! Nigar Shaji

Aditya L1 Mission : Meet the woman behind ISRO's Sun mission! Nigar Shaji

Aditya L1 Mission : Meet the woman behind ISRO's Sun mission! Nigar Shaji

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Aditya-L1, ISRO’s inaugural solar mission, successfully completed its final manoeuvre on Saturday, positioning itself in the designated orbit for a five-year observation of the Sun. 

From the Moon Walk to Celestial Surya Namaskar, India is taking a step forward in space history.

On Saturday, Aditya-L1, the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) first solar mission, underwent its last manoeuvre and reached its final orbit, the desired destination from where it will make observations of the Sun for the next five years.

Spearheading this achievement is Nigar Shaji, the project director who has been with ISRO since 1987. Read on to know, all about Nigar Shaji, the driving force behind the launch:

Shaji is a scientist from Tamil Nadu’s Tenkasi district.

She was born in Sengottai, a town in the state, to Sheikh Meeran, a mathematics graduate who turned to farming by choice, and Saitoon Biwi, a homemaker. 

The 59-year-old attended Tirunelveli Government Engineering College to obtain her Bachelor’s degree in electronics and communication engineering. She then went on to Birla Institute of Technology in Mesra to pursue her Master’s in the same field.

In 1987, Shaji began her career in space at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre. She subsequently held numerous important roles at the UR Rao Satellite Centre in Bengaluru.

As reported by news agencies, prior to becoming the project director for Aditya-L1, Nigar Shaji served as the associate project director for “Resourcesat-2A,” a crucial Indian remote-sensing satellite for national resource management. Collaborating with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), she is actively involved in two upcoming projects: the anticipated Mars Orbiter Mission 2 (Mangalyaan-2), which is expected to include a lander, and Chandrayaan-4/LUPEX (Lunar Polar Explorer). Shaji also leads the EXO global mission, exploring planets beyond our solar system, and holds the study director role for the Venus project. Recently promoted to the position of programme director at ISRO, she now oversees all lower-level missions, including interplanetary endeavors.

She mentioned that she had applied to an ISRO ad during her seventh semester but underwent an interview and got selected six months after her graduation. Expressing her attachment, she stated that it was her first job, and she continued with it because of her deep passion.

Having dedicated over 30 years to the space industry, Shaji reflects on the positive evolution of gender acceptance across various professions. Recounting her academic journey, she notes the transformation from limited opportunities for women in mechanical engineering to the present inclusion of women as fighter pilots in the Air Force. Emphasizing ISRO’s commitment to meritocracy, Shaji affirms that gender is not a barrier; rather, technical aptitude and passion define success. She personally attests to never encountering a glass ceiling in her illustrious career.

Residing in Bengaluru with her mother and children, Nigar Shaji’s husband works as an engineer in the Middle East, while her scientist son is based in the Netherlands.

During her leisure time, Shaji indulges in hiking with friends and enjoys reading Tamil and English novels.

Under her kind smile, Nigar admits scientists find her to be a strong individual.