Have you ever paused to spare a bit of introspection on the creation of the universe, the billions of galaxies, and the celestial bodies whose origin is yet to be traced back by science? By looking at the midnight blue sky have you ever wondered what it would be like to gaze at the stars from a very close distance instead of the millions of miles of distance where you stand now? Doesn’t the very idea of our minuscule existence in this endless solar system perplex you sometimes? Well, if your young and impressionable mind is very often nudged by these existential questions, giving flight to your imagination to paint its way across the galaxies and the cosmos and explore the core of existence in space then it’s time for you to venture on a journey of discovering the enchantress of aerospace engineering Tessy Thomas.
Known to most as the Missile Woman of India, Tessy Thomas is the embodiment of determination, courage, and intelligence whose awe-inspiring aspiration and journey are bound to trigger the dreams of unravelling the mysteries of the universe layer by layer.
Born in a Syro Malabar Catholic family in Kerala in the year 1963 and named after Mother Teresa, Tessy Thomas has always been very close to rockets and missiles due to the close distance between her home and the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station situated at Trivandrum. The very idea of how an aircraft can penetrate the multiple layers of the atmosphere and launch itself into the uncertainty of space always filled little Tessy with wonder. Although Tessy has always accredited the backwaters of Kerala and the tranquillity of nature that contributed to her development it was also turbulent times that she encountered along with her 5 siblings and mother after her father got bedridden due to a stroke and ensuing paralysis when she was nearly 13. However, all these tough times failed to hold Tessy and her siblings back as it was their parents’ encouragement of uncompromising excellence in their studies that always made them pursue their ambitions.
Besides being independent and strong-willed from a very young age, Tessy Thomas completed her initial schooling at St Michael’s High Secondary School and St Joseph’s Girls Higher Secondary School, both of which are located in Alappuzha in Kerala. Being a maths wizard and a physics genius, she surpassed all expectations by securing 100% marks in mathematics during her final years of schooling. It made it easy for her to apply for an education loan of rupees 100 every month from the State Bank of India so that she could pursue her engineering degree from the Government Engineering College of Thrissur. She even started receiving a scholarship fund that paid for her tuition fees and very soon she had chosen the path to her dreams when she joined B. tech while living in a hostel. Besides her natural flair for science and maths, she was also interested in politics and extracurricular activities like badminton which made her earn a lot of accolades for her alma maters.
Her first brush with missiles and rockets started when she joined the M. tech course from the Pune Institute of Armament Technology followed by an MBA degree in Operations Management along with a Ph.D. degree in guidance missiles from the Defence Research and Development Organization. Till now Tessy was standing on the edge of the shore waiting to dive deeper into the endless depth of the ocean of aeronautical science and aerospace innovation. It was in the year 1988 when Tessy joined the Defence Research and Development Organisation to work on the Agni missiles, that her dreams actually came true. She was finally in that realm where she would unveil all the secrecies of space one at a time and reach out to the infinite cosmos with her scientific knowledge.
Already on her way to the unstoppable journey to the heights of the universe, she found the guidance of APJ Abdul Kalam who happened to be her role model as well who saw the potential in the Agni Putri and put her in charge of the Agni III missile project as the associate project director. All her unbound curiosities and scientific acumen proved to be crucial in this project where Tessy worked extremely hard with unwavering determination and focus. Soon enough, her expertise grabbed the attention of her superiors and she was appointed as the project director for the next Agni IV Mission which passed the initial testing successfully in the year 2011. Being an ideal of wisdom and intellect in her field, Tessy was soon handed over the responsibility of the project director for the Agni V Missile project in the year 2009 which also became successful after years of her perseverance and labour paid off in the year 2012. Her steadfast growth and leadership abilities now came to the forefront as she was promoted to the position of the director general of aeronautical systems of the Defence Research and Development Organisation.
One might wonder what was the guiding force that turned Tessy Thomas into an indomitable spirit that was forged with knowledge, brilliance, intellect, and a tremendous zeal to exceed all the barriers of convention. It is her insatiable quest for knowledge and curiosity about the infinity of space and the intriguing concept of missiles that made Tessy encounter every challenge head-on only to wave it away as a mere halt in her journey to space in a metaphorical way.
Apparently, it might seem that Tessy has always had a perfect favourable guiding wind to sail her ship in the direction she wanted, but her success story is not free from episodes of struggles where she had to balance her role as a homemaker and a dedicated scientist even making sacrifices at some point to fulfil her professional commitments. Most importantly, it was the way Tessy held her head high amidst all the adversities, not only daring to dream but also fulfilling it extraordinarily by shattering gender stereotypes and becoming an icon of knowledge, determination, and passion for science that will continue to inspire brave hearts like her, generation after generation.