New Delhi: The Ambassador of France to India, Thierry Mathou, presented Dr. V R Lalithambika, an esteemed scientist from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and former Director of the Human Spaceflight Programme at ISRO, with the prestigious Chevalier De La Légion d’Honneur, France's highest civilian honor, during a ceremony held on Tuesday. This recognition was in acknowledgment of her significant contributions to fostering space cooperation between France and India.
Dr. Lalithambika, renowned for her expertise in advanced launch vehicle technology, has played a pivotal role in various ISRO rocket projects, notably the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). In her tenure as Director of the Human Spaceflight Programme in 2018, she collaborated closely with the French National Space Agency (Centre national d’études spatiales - CNES) for India’s Gaganyaan project. Her instrumental role led to the signing of the initial bilateral agreement between CNES and ISRO, allowing for the exchange of experts in space medicine between the two countries.
Further strengthening ties, in 2021, Dr. Lalithambika facilitated the signing of another agreement between France and India for the Indian astronaut program. This agreement involved the French space agency providing training to India’s flight physicians and CAPCOM mission control teams at prominent centers such as the CADMOS center for microgravity applications and space operations at CNES in Toulouse, France, and the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany.
Expressing his delight during the conferral, Ambassador Thierry Mathou stated, "I am honored to present the Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur to Dr. V R Lalithambika, a distinguished scientist and pioneer in space technology. Her expertise, achievements, and unwavering dedication have charted an ambitious course in the longstanding Indo-French space partnership."
Upon receiving the honor, Dr. Lalithambika remarked, "I earnestly hope that this recognition will inspire more women to pursue careers in STEM fields and excel in their chosen paths."
In an official statement, the French government lauded Dr. Lalithambika as an inspiration for the next generation of scientists in Toulouse and India. Her efforts towards inclusivity, particularly in enabling the recruitment of civilians, including women, for the Indian astronaut program, were commended.
Dr. Lalithambika joins an illustrious list of past recipients of this prestigious accolade, including luminaries from various domains such as JRD Tata, Satyajit Ray, Bharat Ratna C N R Rao, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Zubin Mehta, E Sreedharan, Amitabh Bachchan, Sivaji Ganeshan, Lata Mangeshkar, Shah Rukh Khan, Shashi Tharoor, danseuse Alarmel Valli, Azim Premji, and space scientist A S Kiran Kumar.