Malayali space scientist VR Lalithambika conferred France's highest civilian honour

Ambassador of France to India, Thierry Mathou, on Tuesday conferred the Chevalier De La Légion d’Honneur on Dr V R Lalithambika. Photo: Special Arrangement

New Delhi: On behalf of the French government, the Ambassador of France to India, Thierry Mathou, on Tuesday conferred the top French civilian honour of Chevalier De La Légion d’Honneur on Dr V R Lalithambika, a distinguished scientist of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and former Director, Directorate of the Human Spaceflight Programme, ISRO, for her engagement in space cooperation between France and India.

A specialist in advanced launch vehicle technology, Dr Lalithambika has worked extensively on various ISRO rockets, particularly the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). In 2018, as Director of the Human Spaceflight Programme, she coordinated closely with the French National Space Agency (Centre national d’études spatiales - CNES) for India’s Gaganyaan project. Dr Lalithambika was instrumental in signing the first joint agreement for cooperation between CNES and ISRO on human spaceflight, under which the two countries could exchange specialists to work on space medicine.

In 2021, Dr Lalithambika coordinated with CNES to sign a second agreement between France and India on the Indian astronaut programme during the visit of the former French Foreign Affairs Minister to ISRO, Bengaluru. Under this agreement, the French space agency would train India’s flight physicians and CAPCOM mission control teams in France at the CADMOS centre for the development of microgravity applications and space operations at CNES in Toulouse and at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany.

While conferring the title, the Ambassador of France to India, Thierry Mathou, said, “I am delighted to confer the Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur on Dr V R Lalithambika, a distinguished scientist and a trailblazer in space technology. Her expertise, accomplishments, and tireless efforts have scripted a new ambitious chapter in the long history of the Indo-French space partnership.”

Receiving the award, Dr Lalithambika said, “I sincerely hope that this honour being bestowed on me will spur more and more women to take up STEM careers and to excel in their chosen fields.”

The French government, in an official release, said that Dr Lalithambika was an inspiration to the next generation of scientists not only in Toulouse but also in India, where she promoted inclusivity by enabling the recruitment of civilians, including women, to participate in the future of the Indian astronaut programme.

Lalithambika is in august company. The former recipients of this prestigious award include big names from various fields like 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.

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