The 'Missile Woman' behind Indian test launch

Hailed as a trail blazer in male-dominated India, Tessy Thomas juggles domestic duties with her day job -- as the country's top ballistic missile expert.

Thomas was project director for the Agni V long-range nuclear-capable missile which was test-fired last week in a major military advance that will give India the ability to hit all of rival China's cities for the first time.

Celebrated as "Missile Woman" in the local media, she has lent a new and unusual face to the secretive world of India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

But while the Roman Catholic from southern Kerala state has changed perceptions of her profession and challenged tradition along the way, she says she remains the doting wife and mother at home.

"In Indian culture, we feel that women are also supposed to be taking care of the home, so a little bit of challenges are there," the 48-year-old told AFP. "But all my lady colleagues are also doing the same, just like me.

"It was slightly tough, but I could do it by balancing my time" between home and work.

"It was tough when my son was in school," she conceded.

Not all of her female colleagues have risen to such a position of prominence however.

The Agni V was a prestige project for India. Its 5,000-kilometre (3,100 mile) range is seen as vital for national defence and another demonstration of the nation's rising power.

President Pratibha Patil, another woman in a prominent position, commented after the launch that "the work of Thomas in the Agni programme would hopefully inspire more women in choosing careers in science".

In January, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that Thomas was an example of a "woman making her mark in a traditionally male bastion and decisively breaking the glass ceiling".

Thomas joined the DRDO in 1988 and went on to work under A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the architect of the national missile development programme who later became India's president.

Her initial focus was on the guidance systems for the various Agni missiles. The first variant was flight-tested in 1989.

Her stewardship of the Agni V came after the first launch of the 3,500-kilometre-range Agni III in 2006.

The mother of a son and wife of a naval officer insists there is no gender discrimination in predominantly male DRDO, where about 200 female colleagues work in its dozens of ordnance factories and research facilities.

"I always felt like a scientist and DRDO never made me feel otherwise. Besides, science does not recognise who is making the inputs," she said.

Thomas says she decided to go into missiles -- which she regards as instruments of peace because of their deterrence value -- after watching rocket tests from a launch centre near her home.

"As school children we used to go on picnics to watch the rocket tests and I would be fascinated. Besides, I was always interested in science and mathematics," she told AFP.

Such is her passion for Indian defence hardware that she named her college-age son Tejas -- after India's indigenously-built light combat aircraft.

Between her kitchen at home in the southern city of Hyderabad and poring over complex telemetry data at work, Thomas, who holds an engineering doctorate, has now set herself another challenge.

"I am currently working on mission and guidance (systems) of the multiple independent re-entry vehicle," the scientist said, referring to proposed new technology to deliver multiple warheads with a single missile.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • OIC asked to complete review of peace pact with MNLF
    OIC asked to complete review of peace pact with MNLF

    The Philippine government is asking the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to finally complete the tripartite review process of the implementation of the 1996 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The review – snagged  for several years as government had its hands full with the peace process with rival faction Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – tackles how the 1996 peace pact with the MNLF has been implemented and centers on the three remaining …

  • Alleged Binay dummies appear in Senate probe
    Alleged Binay dummies appear in Senate probe

    Eight of the resource persons ordered arrested by the Senate finally attended the 21st public hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee into the alleged anomalies involving Vice President Jejomar Binay, but the proceedings turned out to be a review of matters previously presented. For over three hours, the subcommittee heard presentations regarding the alleged hidden assets of Binay and the issue regarding the supposed P200 million in kickbacks he received from a deal between the Boy …

  • DOJ wraps up Mamasapano probe
    DOJ wraps up Mamasapano probe

    The Department of Justice (DOJ) is wrapping up its investigation into the “massacre” of 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Jan. 25. A joint team of prosecutors and NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) investigators is about to finish the second part,” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has told congressmen. She was responding to questions raised by former senior police officer and now Rep. Samuel Pagdilao of party-list …

  • APEC meet in Bataan seen to boost tourism
    APEC meet in Bataan seen to boost tourism

    BALANGA CITY, Bataan – More than 2,000 delegates of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and international media outfits are expected to enjoy the splendid coastline of Bagac town, which faces the West Philippine Sea, as they converge for a workshop in this province next month. …

  • DOST opens P54-M research facility
    DOST opens P54-M research facility

    A P54-million research and development facility of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) was recently opened in Bicutan, Taguig for scientists and researchers to develop technology and techniques to allow Filipino fashion and clothing designers and manufacturers to produce more mainstream products from local, tropical fabrics like piña, banana and abaca. Science Secretary Mario Montejo said the Innovation Center for Yarns and Textiles (ICYT) is the DOST’s flagship effort at reviving …

  • DFA worried about alleged violations of convicted Pinoys’ rights
    DFA worried about alleged violations of convicted Pinoys’ rights

    Philippine embassy officials in Doha have raised their concern with Qatari authorities over coercion and human rights violations in the alleged forcing of three Filipino workers convicted of spying to provide information and confess to the crime. Speaking to reporters, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose yesterday said the embassy has raised the matter during several high-level meetings with Qatari officials and the national human rights committee in Qatar. “Our embassy …

  • US affirms ‘ironclad’ promise to defend Phl
    US affirms ‘ironclad’ promise to defend Phl

    US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told his Philippine counterpart on Wednesday that Washington’s pledge to defend the Pacific nation remains “ironclad” and called for an end to land reclamation in the South China Sea, officials said. In talks in Hawaii with Voltaire Gazmin, Philippine secretary of national defense, the Pentagon chief “reaffirmed” the strong ties between the two countries and discussed territorial disputes in the contested waters of the South China Sea, where Beijing has been …

  • ‘Conflict to affect economic growth, stability in SEA’
    ‘Conflict to affect economic growth, stability in SEA’

    Conflict in the South China Sea can affect economic growth and stability in Southeast Asia, New Zealand warned yesterday, amid China’s aggressive reclamation activities in disputed waters. New Zealand is marking its 40 th year of diplomatic ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and hopes to intensify trade and other linkages with the 10-member grouping. ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have overlapping territorial claims with China over the Spratly …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options