In a teleconference call with NASA’s Swati Mohan, Biden lavishes praise on the India-born aerospace engineer and the entire team behind the Perseverance rover landing on Mars
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, March 5, 2021 – In a virtual interaction with NASA aerospace engineer Dr. Swati Mohan, President Joe Biden professed, “Indian-Americans are taking over the country”, a reference to the ever growing number of Indian-origin experts serving in his administration.
Mohan spearheaded NASA’s landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars last month, a historic moment as the world watched with awe! She was the guidance, navigation and control operations lead for the Perseverance’s mission to Mars – the key communicator for NASA’s most sophisticated spacecraft.
“Thank you for taking the time to speak with us”, Mohan told the president in a teleconference call that was open to hundreds of NASA scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, who were involved in the nailbiting Mars landing.
“Are you kidding me?”, Biden responded, “What an honor this is. This is an incredible honor. And it’s amazing! Indian-Americans are taking over the country: you; my vice president (Kamala Devi Harris); my speechwriter, Vinay (Reddy)”. You guys are incredible”, he gushed.
“One of the reasons why we’re such an incredible country is we’re such a diverse country”, noted the president who has made diversity and opportunity for all a hallmark of his administration. “We bring the best out of every single solitary culture in the world here in the United States of America, and we give people an opportunity to let their dreams run forward”, he said.
NASA’s Mars landing on February 18 is being hailed as a salute to diversity with scientists and engineers of various ages, races, gender in the control room. In the forefront, guiding Perseverance on its journey were women and people of color like the Bengaluru-born, bindi-sporting Mohan.
“Perseverance is my first mission at JPL where I got to work from the very beginning of formulation, all the way through operations, and it made me feel like I was part of that crew”, she told Biden during the teleconference call. “Being able to work with this incredibly diverse, talented team that has become like a family, spending years creating our own technological marvel has been a privilege”, she said.
Mohan recalled, “Those last days and weeks leading up to landing day, it was pretty smooth, but we were all still really nervous and frankly, terrified until we got through those final seven minutes. To be able to call ‘touchdown’ safely, to see those first images come back from Mars, to see the place where we have never been able to go to on Mars before and go there, reach there for the express purpose of seeking out new life just made it feel like I was living in a dream”, she said.
“Now that the tremendous relief has passed for the team of being able to be there safely, all that’s left is the excitement and the thrill of all the scientific discoveries that are yet to come and what Perseverance can actually find, and hopefully find those signs of past life on Mars”, she added.
Responding to Mohan’s sentiment of “living a dream”, Biden said, “You’ve created a dream for millions and millions of young kids, young Americans. You talk about STEM”.
The president lavished praise on NASA’s Perseverance team for its immense contribution in restoring America to its pride of place in the world. The Trump era saw America’s image around the world tarnished and it worsened with the pathetic response to the coronavirus pandemic.
What Biden found so “exhilarating”, was that the entire team at JPL has “restored a dose of confidence in the American people”. Without mentioning the name, he disclosed that a world leader told him, “America has changed so much. They used to be so competent to do great things, and here they can’t even deal with a coronavirus. Look how badly organized they are”.
Biden told the NASA scientists and engineers, “They were beginning to wonder about us. They were beginning to wonder: Are we still the country we always believed we were? You guys did it. You guys gave a sense of ‘America is back’. It’s astounding what you did”, he said.
“It’s so much bigger than landing Perseverance on Mars. It’s about the American spirit, and you brought it back. You brought back in a moment we so desperately need it”, he emphasized.
“We can land a rover on Mars. We can beat a pandemic. And with science, hope and vision, there’s not a damn thing we can’t do as a country. We have never ever failed to meet a goal. We’ve set our mind to it, and we’ve done it together. And that’s what you all showed. So, it goes way beyond – way beyond the whole notion of what you just recently did”, he said continuing to heap praise on NASA’s Perseverance mission team.
“We’re on the side of the angels. Just at the moment when things look like they’re really dark in America over our history, something has come along….. And you guys came along and you did this”.
“You did it the most American way: You believed in science, you believed in hard work, and you believed there wasn’t a darn thing you couldn’t do if you put your minds together”, Biden said.