ISRO scientist Nidhi Sharma has been playing a crucial role in Chandrayaan-2 moon mission Credit: File image

Tinsukia: Not many of us know that a young woman scientist at Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is shouldering an important responsibility in Chandrayaan-2.

Equally caught in surprise were her parents-in-law.

Meet Nidhi Sharma, who has been a key part of the country’s historic moon mission undertaken by ISRO.

Speaking with EastMojo, her father-in-law Dipak Deb, who hails from Assam’s easternmost district, Tinsukia, said: “It was a little over 12 past midnight on the intervening night of September 6 and 7, when Nidhi’s face caught our eyes on television. This was the moment we realised our daughter-in-law is heading a huge responsibility in the crucial Chandrayan-2 — a mission which had caught the interest of the entire world, leave Indians alone.”

The images were coming from a live telecast from ISRO. “We could see Nidhi sitting in front of a computer and working on her system in one frame, while shaking hands with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in another,” Deb said, adding, “We were filled with pride. We called a number of relatives asking them to switch on their TV sets immediately.”

Normally, Nidhi and her parents-in-law speak with each other every day. However, it had been four to five days until September 7 evening when they had a brief conversation for around a minute and half. Deb said, “In Bengali, she said, baba Amar de mission olpe gono fail hoi gelo (Baba, our mission failed for little). She was sobbing over phone. I was speechless for a moment.”

ISRO scientist Nidhi Sharma during Chandrayaan-2 rover’s soft-landing attempt on the moon on Saturday

After a nail-biting descent of the spacecraft which began at 1.38 am, the Chandrayaan 2 mission got stalled at a cliffhanger as ISRO lost contact with the Vikram lander.

The descent of the spacecraft began normally. Carried out with the lander’s four thrusters, the first leg of the descent and deceleration was performed successfully and as planned, bringing the velocity of the landing module down manyfold. However, ISRO lost communication with the Vikram lander when it was 2.1 km from the moon’s surface.

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Recollecting his first meet with Nidhi almost two years ago in Bengaluru, Deb said, “My younger son, Dibakar, introduced me to Nidhi as her friend working in ISRO. They got to know each other at a theatre workshop and became friends.”

They barely had any idea that Nidhi will become their daughter-in-law until December 2018, when their son broke the news to them. They got married in Tinsukia on January 27 this year, Deb said.

ISRO scientist (in green jacket) with her family members

“We only knew that she was working with ISRO. Recently, we came to know that she is associated with Chandrayaan-2, but had no idea that she was shouldering an important responsibility which came to light only during the live telecast from ISRO,” Deb added.

According to Deb, neither Nidhi disclosed much about her work profile and responsibilities, nor did they ask her knowing that ISRO is a sensitive organisation. “She was a perfect daughter-in-law. Recently, we stayed with them in Bengaluru for two months. After reaching home Nidhi used to get herself involved in household work in such a manner that it never gave a feeling that she was invovled with such a high-profile mission,” Deb said.

Nidhi hails from Barak Valley of Assam, and her parents — while her father is working at a private company, her mother is with a government agency — are settled in New Delhi. Dibakar, meanwhile, is an engineer working with a private company in Bangalore.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission was launched to the Moon from the second launch pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre on 22 July 2019 at 2.43 PM IST (09:13 UTC) by a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk III). The craft reached the Moon’s orbit on August 20 and began orbital positioning manoeuvres for the landing of the Vikram lander.

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