Image Source: NASA

Swati Mohan, Mars Guide

Meet the most important person on the Red Planet

Swati Mohan emigrated from India to the United States when she was 1 year old, and was raised in Washington DC metro area. She completed her bachelor degree from Cornell University in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, and her Masters and PhD from MIT in Aeronautics/Astronautics. She has worked on multiple missions such as Cassini (mission to Saturn) and GRAIL (a pair of formation flown spacecraft to the Moon). She has worked on Mars 2020 since almost the beginning of the project in 2013. She is currently the Mars 2020 Guidance, Navigation, and Controls Operations Lead, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, USA.

Image Source: NASA

She led the attitude control system of Mars 2020 during operations, and was the lead systems engineer throughout development. The attitude control system points the vehicle where it needs to be and helps figure out where the spacecraft is oriented in space.

Swati remembers watching her first episode of Star Trek at the age of 9, ultimately her spark in an interest in science, and seeing the beautiful depictions of the new regions of the universe that they were exploring.

“I want to do that. I want to find new and beautiful places in the universe”.
– Swati Mohan

The Guidance, Navigation, and Controls (GNC) subsystem is the eyes and ears of the Mars bound spacecraft. During the cruise phase heading toward Mars, it was her job to figure out how they were oriented, make sure the spacecraft is pointed correctly in space (solar arrays to sun, antenna to Earth), and move the spacecraft to get it where we want to go. During entry, descent, and landing on Mars, GNC determines the position of the spacecraft and commands the manoeuvres it to help it land safely. As operations lead, she is the primary point of communication between the GNC subsystem and the rest of the project. She was responsible for the training of the GNC team, scheduling the mission control staffing for GNC, as well as the policies/procedures the GNC uses in the mission control room.


A Taiwan born writer living her best life in South-East Queensland, Australia. Covering the topics for the little voices of the country.