As the world watched with bated breath just 10 days ago, the Vikram Lander sent by India to explore the surface of the moon apparently flipped and crashed on the lunar surface, breaking hearts.
It also united science boffins everywhere in their praise for the innovative and hard-working Indian scientists of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), whose disappointment was palpable across TV screens around the world.
One other thing stood out: The sheer number of women scientists in the control room of the Chandrayaan-2 mission. Saree-clad and looking impressively nerdy, it was a rah-rah moment for Indian women. And well it should be.
At ISRO, significantly, 30 per cent of scientists are women, including the Chandrayaan-2 project director M Vanitha, an electronics and communications engineer, heading the 300-person Chandrayaan-2 team, and mission director Ritu Karidhal, an aerospace engineer.
It inspired hundreds of girls to proudly announce that they too would like to become space scientists and astronauts. Such is the power of role models. These girls have seen women scientists as high achievers who work as equals with male counterparts and they believe their turn is round the corner.
It is not all rosy yet, of course. Women comprise just 14pc of the nearly 280,000 scientists, engineers and technologists in India, while the global average is 28.4pc, according to the 2018 National Task Force on Women in Science.
The very real bias and discouragement of girls at school and college from pursuing scientific study is not the figment of a fevered feminist mind. After all Ada Lovelace was denied recognition as the scientist behind mathematical computing and Marie Curie was always seen as husband Pierre Curie’s helpmate when she was in fact, a towering scientist in her own right who went on to be awarded two Nobel Prizes.
Even today, the discrimination against women in science is subtle. Ambitious parents will push girls who are mathematically inclined to aspire for top marks in the commerce stream and for careers as economists and finance chiefs.
That too is fantastic, but the world needs the unique thinking of women scientists as well.
Even if girls did graduate from school and college with great science degrees and PhD qualifications in physics or astronomy, gender-based disadvantages continue to dog their progress.
Look at interviews of the impressive Ms Karidhal. In many of them, she speaks about how she used to feel guilty because her work interfered with her role as a mother. Have you heard male scientists ever expressing such feelings? Or even being asked about their roles as fathers and husbands? Why are you and I still curious about how brilliant women balance their roles as mothers and home-makers with their career ambitions when we are blind to that side of a man’s life?
Equipping girls with top scientific education and role models is just the beginning. Going forward, we must also ensure that women scientists are not left holding just the ladle and feeding bottle.
The establishment of gender-unbiased, transparent criteria for approval of project proposals, selection of candidates for jobs, and nomination to decision-making positions in scientific organisations will go a long way towards accessing the brilliance of the woman scientist’s mind for the betterment of the world.