A Look Back: The Remarkable Career of Ritu Karidhal in the Field of Science

“I have always had a fascination for mysteries of outer space, and knew that’s what I wanted to get into” — Ritu Karidhal.

For centuries, women have had to face barriers and discrimination, which have ensured that they have had to curb their talent, aspirations, and ambitions. But with the changing times, they have learnt to break those barriers, the stereotypes holding them back, fight disparity and step out to make their presence felt in different walks of life.

We have reached a point where there is hardly any sphere where you don’t find women. Every profession, every vocation, has women working to break the male bastion. Science and technology was one of those areas that men dominated for the longest time, but not any longer. Slowly and steadily, women are forging ahead and making their presence felt, and our country is not far behind in this. In fact, we are leading the way in many ways.

The country’s space program is a testimony to this. Women have had an integral role in its success, as is evident from our recent foray into space, the Chandrayaan -3. Besides the male scientists, several women are responsible for this mission’s success. One woman who has made a mark is Ritu Kardhal, the ‘Rocket Woman of India’.

Who is Ritu Karidhal?

Ritu Karidhal is a scientist and aerospace engineer in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

She joined ISRO in 1997 and was the Mission Director of Chandrayaan-2 and the Deputy Operations Director of Mangalyaan, India’s Mars orbital mission. 

Ritu Karidhal Education

How a child’s life develops has a lot to do with how parents raise the child. Children learn from their parents in many ways. They learn from what they are taught and what they imbibe from their environment.

Ritu was born in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh and belonged to a middle-class family which placed great emphasis on education and hard work. Ritu and her siblings imbibed these values and worked hard to make a success of their lives. 

Ritu was a dedicated and hardworking student, and her mother supported her during her long study sessions to ensure she didn’t feel demotivated or alone. As a child, not only was Ritu hardworking, but she also was deeply interested in space. She loved gazing at the night sky for hours, thinking about outer space and the mystery surrounding it. Ritu’s mother joined her in stargazing and reflecting on the beauty of the night sky. 

The moon and its various shapes and sizes fascinated her, and she wanted to understand how it all happened; how could the moon change its shape and size the way it did? She also wanted to study the stars and know what lay behind them.

As she grew older, her interest continued to grow. In her teens, she started collecting newspaper clippings and keeping track of space-related activities, particularly those of organisations like ISRO and NASA.

This interest led her to take up Science as an area of study in school and after that. She pursued her Bachelor’s in Physics from Lucknow University and followed that up with her M.Sc. in Physics from the same University. Ritu often credits her professors for teaching Physics in such an engaging manner that she knew she had chosen the right path for herself. 

Later, she enrolled in a doctorate course in the Physics Department of Lucknow University. Ritu accomplished quite a lot in the first six months of her Ph.D. program. She published a paper, worked as a part-time lecturer for Physics and took the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE), one of India’s most competitive national-level exams. After being accepted to the prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore for a Master of Technology (M.Tech) in Aerospace Engineering, she faced a tough decision.

Ritu was torn between pursuing her PhD research in physics and achieving her dream of joining a space agency. Her mentors advised her to join IISc, which she did. She knew this step would bring her closer to her aspirations. This was a big step for her and her parents, who had to trust and have confidence in their daughter to send her away to a different part of the country, which was unfamiliar to them. Despite societal norms, her parents recognised the importance of this opportunity and prioritised their daughter’s success.

Ritu Karidhal ISRO

Finally, Ritu joined ISRO in 1997. Despite other senior scientists being available, Ritu remembers receiving complex and challenging assignments due to her educational background. She completed these tasks within the given time frame, which helped her gain more confidence in her work and become even more passionate about the challenges ahead. Ritu thoroughly enjoyed working on the projects she was involved in! and worked hard to make her mark in the organisation and its space programmes.

Awards and Accomplishments

When one works hard and is rewarded, it motivates the person like nothing else. Ritu’s work has received its due share of awards and accolades.

Professor Manisha Gupta, her MSc supervisor, recalls Ritu as a dedicated, simple and hardworking woman who was sincere about her work. Her intelligence was undeniable!

Among the many awards that Ritu Karidhal has received, the notable ones include the ISRO Young Scientist Award in 2007 from A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the President of India, the ‘ISRO Team Award for MOM (2015)’, the ‘ASI Team Award’, and the ‘Women Achievers in Aerospace (2017)’ by the Society of Indian Aerospace Technologies & Industries (SIATI).

She has also presented at TED and TEDx events describing the success of the Mars Orbiter Mission.

Lucknow University, her alma mater, awarded Ritu an honorary doctorate, which was conferred by Governor Anandiben Patel.

Trivia

Giving tribute to her excellence in the Mangalayaan mission, a Bollywood film was created in which Indian actress Vidya Balan plays her role.

Ritu has achieved a lot in her life, but she acknowledges that the support provided by her parents, husband, siblings, and children has played a significant role in her success. She gives credit to her husband for sharing the household chores and taking care of the kids, which allowed both of them to focus on their respective careers. Her children are proud of her, and their enthusiasm motivates her to keep going.

Also Read: 10 Career Options for Women After a Break

Ritu is an excellent example of a middle-class Indian girl with high hopes and dreams. She has shown that with the right amount of confidence, passion, and support, young girls and women can overcome any obstacle and achieve any level of success.

She aimed for the stars and reached the moon.

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