The Space Roboticist

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

Illustration by Robert Neubecker for Science

The first motorized vehicle Vandi Verma ever operated was a tractor. “I must’ve been 11 years old at the time,” she says. During school vacations, she visited her grandparents, who lived in a village in central India. At their farm, her uncle let her take a few turns behind the tractor wheel. Later, when she was a teenager, her father, who was a pilot with the Indian Air Force, taught her how to drive a car. That was unusual in India at that time, where those who could afford a car hired a driver.

Today, Verma is one of the few people in the world who is qualified to drive a vehicle on Mars. She helps operate the car-sized Curiosity rover, which is now prowling the planet, examining its rocks to see whether it is, or was ever, a suitable habitat for life.

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