Over the years, India has made a substantial contribution to the domain of scientific research, specifically in areas like nuclear power, space research, medicine, and many more. These contributions could be possible because of the uncompromising efforts and competence demonstrated by researchers like Vikram Sarabhai, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Homi J. Bhabha, and other visionaries. However, among these names, one of the most remarkable names is Tessy Thomas. Popularly and admiringly known as ‘The Missile Woman of India’ or ‘Agniputri,’ Tessy Thomas is a scientist from the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). After Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, celebrated as ‘The Missile Man of India, Tessy Thomas, emerged as the very first woman to have successfully guided a team of scientists in India working on intercontinental ballistic missiles. The fame of Tessy Thomas lies in her immense and proven expertise in developing high-range missiles that were capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Moreover, the propellant systems designed by Tessy Thomas were so potent that they were capable of enduring a high heat of 3000 degrees Celsius temperature with super-high velocity.
Born in the year 1963, Tessy hailed from a very simple and humble background. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram, specializing in electronics and communication. With her unparalleled prowess in mathematics and physics and persistent love for scientific research, Tessy Thomas could never be satisfied with any regular job which could stunt her growth as a knowledge seeker and obstruct her dream of becoming a researcher. That is why Tessy refused a job offer from her brother-in-law and chose to complete her PhD instead. Her career as a scientific researcher started in the year 1884 when Tessy managed to acquire an internship at the Indian Space Research Organization, where her first contributions to scientific research began in the form of satellites and launch vehicle designing. Having done some impressive work at the Indian Space Research Organization, it didn’t take too long for her to become the director of the Physical Research Laboratory and successively an Advisor to the Defence Minister concerning missile programmes.
It was Tessy Thomas’s love for scientific research that broadened her horizons and pushed the peripheries of her dreams. Soon she decided to join the Defense Research Development Organization a few years later, which was about to establish the platform for her magnificent success marking the turning point of her life.
All through her life, Tessy had admired Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s work and had considered him her role model. As a result, it was a golden moment for Tessy when she got selected to work on the Agni missile launch programme. After joining DRDO Tessy got the scope to work as a consultant on the Agni missile programme where she rendered her brilliant ideas on designing launch vehicles and missiles for the armed forces of the country, a feat to reckon with. Not just that, but Tessy Thomas also contributed significantly to designing different GPS technologies and Radio Frequency Identification tags, which are still considered to be some of the finest inventions in modern science and technology. Her natural flair for physics got her immense popularity, fetching her opportunities to explore her expertise further in the field of infrared communication devices that are fitted into satellites and aircraft for communication purposes.
But Tessy Thomas was not to be limited to just inventions and creations. The smoothness and efficiency with which she had successfully guided a team of 150 engineers in her first job at ISRO, proved that she’s a team leader as well. Not only did Tessy apply her scientific genius to her work, but also became a pioneer for modern women to follow suit. Being the first Indian woman to lead a team in this kind of powerful and re-defining research, and that too on reputed missile programmes such as the Agni missiles was not a simple feat to pull off. But despite having reached the zenith of success, she still has a very grounded personality and prefers being called a woman working on missile programmes instead of being called ‘The Missile Woman of India.’ She never shied away from stating clearly that she never wanted to miss an opportunity to lead such an honorable mission and lead from the front. What makes the name of Tessy Thomas shine so brightly in the field of Indian scientific research is her incessant work on missiles for more than three decades and her subsequent acquiring of an honorary doctorate from MIT in engineering.
After the successful testing and accomplishment of the programme of the Agni missiles, her quest for knowledge and inquisition to explore future possibilities in the field of scientific research got the better of her. It was around this time that she was offered the position of technical director at HQITR. There she curated a reliable and powerful team to design ballistic missiles that were made for the Indian armed forces. Furthermore, in the year 1996, Tessy was also appointed to the coveted position of controller for ballistic missile flight test programmes at DRDO where she chaired the position of managing all the missile programmes initiated in India.
Enumerating the achievements in scientific research by Tessy Thomas does not completely do justice to her brilliance. Her opinionated nature, fearlessness, and determination to learn from her mistakes have made her an inspiring figure for the youth of India, especially women. Her success is a testament to the extent of possibilities and success that women can achieve by shattering all the obstacles in their way of pursuing their dreams.