The engineer who played a key role in Chandrayaan 3’s triumphant touchdown on the Moon

The engineer who played a key role in Chandrayaan 3’s triumphant touchdown on the Moon
Mrs. Kalpana Kalahasti, ISRO. Image: Samyukta Lakshmi

Kalpana Kalahasti, the Associate Project Director of ISRO’s Chandrayaan 3 mission, has been featured in Nature’s 10 most notable people of the year, owing to her crucial role in ensuring India’s triumphant touchdown on the Moon. Click the button below to read her team’s approach to Chandrayaan 3:

It’s also my first article on Nature! :D

Since Kalahasti’s profile was part of a larger story featuring ten notable people in science & technology this year (and one non-human!), the story’s Editor Richard Monastersky and I worked hard to pack in a lot in the brief piece. But still, there’s only so much you can do with 600 words. And so I’d like to add two paras below that didn’t quite make it to the piece:

[Project Director] Veeramuthuvel and [Associate Project Director] Kalahasti spent the bulk of Chandrayaan 3’s development time coming up with and overseeing comprehensive ground tests that would uniquely increase the likelihood of a safe landing. These included testing landing sensors on a helicopter to mimic different mission phases, examining the performance of engines that need to dynamically throttle during descent, assessing the navigation system’s ability to avoid hazards before touchdown with crane-based setups on Moon-like terrain, and conducting leg drop tests on lunar simulant beds to ensure the lander can handle varied slopes and a range of velocities on touchdown.

“You can only go so far with hardware tests. You can’t subject hardware to many failure scenarios, and so we formed a dedicated simulation group to characterize our lander’s ability to recover from off-nominal trajectories,” added Kalahasti, highlighting another mission building aspect that exemplifies the failure-based approach her team took for Chandrayaan 3’s success. The group also simulated each redundant path the lander could’ve taken during autonomous descent to be confident about the desired outcome.

For me, this is the crux of Chandrayaan 3. It is this meticulous approach that has resulted in Chandrayaan 3 keeping the global momentum for the Moon going by feeding into the frenzy of sending robotic missions to Luna.

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