Wednesday, June 27, 2012

India's missile woman: Tessy Thomas

From: The Times of India

Dated: April 25, 2012

Title: ‘Leadership or technology doesn’t know gender’: Tessy Thomas, key player Agni-5 missile

By: Pallava Bagla

‘Leadership or technology doesn’t know gender’: Tessy Thomas, key player Agni-5 missile

She was named after Nobel peace prize-winner Mother Teresa - but scientist Tessy Thomas made news for heading the team responsible for India's first missile that can cross continents. With a range of over 5,000 kilometres, the multi-functional Agni V can be used to direct weapons over vast distances - or even launch a 300-kg satellite in a low earth orbit. Thomas, often termed India's 'agni-putri', spoke with Pallava Bagla about her feelings at Agni V's launch, what the weapon gives India - and why being a woman has never deterred her from succeeding in a male-dominated work field:

The Agni V has been successfully launched - after all the effort, how does it feel?

It is a feeling of great satisfaction. The country needed such a defence system and i am proud to be part of the team that made history. This is a game-changer missile that gives India the capability to launch nuclear weapons if required, launch anti-satellite weapons and even launch satellites on demand. This is a 21st century, highly modern missile that gives India the strategic depth it lacked.

Please tell us about your role in the development of the Agni V missile.

I started with navigation and guidance. I designed the guidance for the entire Agni series. I then switched over to the mission design for Agni-plus and for all the Agni series of missiles. I developed the guidance and mission design for the Agni V missile.

You are a leader in this field today - has being a woman and reaching the top been difficult?

No. I have been given this project to head as a leader - and we have proven the system. Leadership or technology doesn't know gender. Science has no gender. Science does not know from where knowledge is coming - it's only the willingness to learn and know things that matters. If you are willing to take on challenges and learn from experience, that's what is required. I have faced no gender discrimination at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). It all depends on the type of organisation it is - and we at
DRDO get the support we need. Further, my husband is also from a naval background, so he knows the responsibility of the work i am doing, the importance of this work. My son and my family, my parents, all were supportive towards my work.

But in a heavily male dominated work area like missile technology, is it easy to get male colleagues to listen to you?

I think they listen and do the job like any depends on leadership and the science which we are working out toge-ther. They all take up the work jointly and know their responsibilities while i know how to convey this sense of responsi-bility. We work together...the whole team has been working for this class of missiles.

Do you have a message for young women who want to take up a career in science?

Yes. It's the willingness to learn, to take on challenges that is important. If you are confident that you can do science well, you will excel at it. Science is a subject of great popular interest today and it's vital for our technology. We're seeing people willing to study science at the school and college levels. I also interact with many children, all of whom are willing to take up science as their subject of choice.

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