New Delhi : The French government on Wednesday conferred its top awards on Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientist Dr V R Lalithambika and acclaimed translator and author Dr Arshia Sattar.
For her engagement in space cooperation between France and India, Ambassador Thierry Mathou honoured Lalithambika, former Director, Directorate of the Human Spaceflight Programme, ISRO, with Legion d’Honneur — the country’s top civilian award.
It gives me great pleasure to bestow upon Dr. V.R. Lalithambika, a renowned scientist and pioneer in space technology, the title of Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur. In a statement, Ambassador Mathou stated, “Her accomplishments, skill, and unceasing work have written a new ambitious chapter in the long history of the Indo-French space partnership.”
Lalithambika is an expert in cutting-edge launch vehicle technology and has contributed significantly to a number of ISRO rockets, most notably the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
She worked closely with the French National Space Agency (Centre national d’etudes spatiales, or CNES) in 2018 while serving as Director of the Human Spaceflight Programme in relation to India’s Gaganyaan project.
Lalithambika had a key role in the first agreement to be signed by CNES and ISRO for joint cooperation on human spaceflight, which allowed the two nations to share professionals for space medicine research.
“I sincerely hope that this honour being bestowed upon me will spur more and more women to take up STEM careers and to excel in their chosen fields,” Lalithambika said after accepting the award.
During the previous French Foreign Affairs Minister’s visit to ISRO in 2021, Lalithambika worked with CNES to arrange the signing of a second agreement between France and India regarding the Indian astronaut programme.
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.
“Dr Lalithambika is 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,” a French Embassy statement read.
Sattar was presented the insignia of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) at a special ceremony at the Consulate General of France in Bengaluru.
As the director of Sangam House, a literary residence, she has demonstrated a strong dedication to promoting literature and has received acclaim for her exceptional accomplishments in the world of literature as a writer and translator.
The Embassy noted in a statement that “this award honours her continued commitment to cultural relationships and cooperation between diverse literary worlds.”
A significant occasion is always marked when the arts are acknowledged. We get a deeper understanding of ourselves and one another via the arts. The arts serve as a reminder of our common humanity, which is probably the most important touchstone in the turbulent 21st century—that we have more in common than differences. I appreciate that the French government recognized that with this prize.
Throughout her career, Sattar has worked on translations of the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Tales from Kathasaritsagara, three of the greatest works of Indian literature.
She has also authored a number of children’s books, such as The Mahabharata for Children, which will get the Sahitya Akademi Prize for Children’s Literature in 2022.
Together with David William Gibson, she co-founded Sangam House, a literary residency, in 2008 with the goal of providing a safe haven where writers who express themselves in local tongues can engage with peers from all backgrounds and exchange viewpoints.
Sangam House was the first literary residency of its kind, which has hosted over 200 writers from across India and the world.
It is now a member of the Villa Swagatam network of residencies — an initiative launched by the French Institute in India in March 2023, which consists of 16 Indian residencies spanned across the country, hosting residents in the fields of arts and crafts, performing arts, and literature.
Some noted Indian recipients of the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in the past include actors Shahrukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Richa Chadha, photographer Raghu Rai, theatre director Ebrahim Alkazi, playwright Habib Tanveer, and author Upamanyu Chatterjee.