There were a few hiccups in the process, but India’s much-awaited space mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-2, has finally had lift-off. The launch, which happened on July 22, is monumental for a number of reasons, including the fact that, for the first time in Indian history, a space mission is spearheaded by two women.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has carried out 105 spacecraft missions and 75 launch missions since its establishment in 1969.
Chandrayaan-2 is led by Muthayya Vanitha and Ritu Karidhal, the project director and mission director, respectively. Vanitha has been with the ISRO for 32 years while Karidhal has worked there for 22. Both women have expertise in engineering and were fundamental to the planning and execution of this mission. Thirty percent of the team working on the project are women.
This is the second lunar mission conducted by the ISRO. The first spacecraft, Chandrayaan-1, launched in 2008 and orbited the moon without landing on it. The new mission will attempt to do what the first could not.
Indian women across Twitter have commended the scientists in their accomplishment, expressing how their leadership has been empowering for them, too.
Vanitha and Karidhal’s leadership is particularly notable because space travel has long ignored the contributions of women. However, a recent string of films and articles have brought these stories to light. The 2016 film Hidden Figures, for example, kickstarted a conversation about the crucial roles that women played in the space race. A recent Wired article by Abigail Beall also argues that space travel was structured specifically with men in mind, all the way down to the spacesuits. Of the 537 space travelers worldwide, only 11 percent were women, according to a 2016 study.
Although India has lagged in a number of areas when it comes to gender equality, a study has revealed that it is one of several countries with a high proportion of women studying in STEM. Other countries like India, where the number of female science, technology, engineering, and math graduates are high despite the gender inequality are Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.
In a 2016 study on higher education in India, it was revealed that 35-40 percent of students enrolled in science-related degrees were women. However, a study by Girls in Tech found that 40 percent of female engineers in India are unemployed. While the opportunities for female scientists is cemented by the success of the two female leaders of this lunar mission, there’s a long way to go.
This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.