National Girl Child Day 2020: Meet Mangala Mani – ISRO scientist in historic Antarctica mission

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As India celebrates National Girl Child Day 2020, a lot of people on Twitter are looking back to Mangala Mani of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Mangala became the first woman scientist from ISRO to stay in Antarctica for over a year. In November 2016, then 56-year-old Mangala Mani was a part of the 23-member expedition team to India's research centre 'Bharati' in Antarctica. She was the only woman in the contingent and she stayed in Antarctica for 403 days.

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Mangala Mani had never experienced snow before the expedition's selection process. To make the cut for the selection team, Mangala had to undergo several physical and mental tests over the course of a few weeks. These included check-ups at AIIMS Delhi, including assessment of whether she would be able to endure long winter or not. Thereafter, she had to go to Uttarakhand's Auli for two weeks. She had to stay at an altitude of 9,000 feet to get acclimatised to the ice. She and her team were later taken to Badrinath at an altitude of 10,000 feet. The team had to go on long treks carrying heavy backpacks during their time in Uttarakhand as a test of their physical endurance levels. A TOI report quoted Mangala as saying that the treks were also aimed at building team spirit within the group.

After the rigorous selection process, during the summer for Antarctica in November 2016, the team was loaded with a year worth of supplies and shipped off to Bharati as Antarctica remains cut off during its winters. There, the team used to collect their waste and send it to the mainland to keep the continent clean.

Not only was Mangala the only woman in the Indian contingent, but she was also the only woman in the region as the teams deployed to nearby Chinese and Russian stations were also constituted of only men.

The team had been deployed to the Antarctica station to maintain and operate Bharati, the TOI report quoted Mangala's boss, the director of National Remote Sensing Centre in Hyderabad, Dr YVN Krishnamurthy as saying. He revealed that Hyderabad only had access to 2 or 3 orbits and hence couldn't collect data from polar satellites. On the other hand, Antarctica can access 14 orbits due to being situated at the south pole and thus, a lot of data is downloaded at the Antarctica station and then transmitted to Hyderabad centre.

Mangala Mani is an embodiment of the strength of women. In a male-dominated field, she carved a space for herself and despite men being stronger biologically, she proved that with willpower and dedication, women can match men in any given field.