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.
“I am delighted to confer the Chevalier of the Legion 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,” Ambassador Mathou said in a statement.
A specialist in advanced launch vehicle technology, 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’etudes spatiales – CNES) for India’s Gaganyaan project.
Lalithambika was instrumental in the signing of 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.
Receiving the award, 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.”
In 2021, Lalithambika coordinated with CNES for the signing of a second agreement between France and India on the Indian astronaut programme during the visit of the former French Foreign Affairs Minister to ISRO.
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.
The distinction comes in recognition of her outstanding achievements in the field of literature as a translator and a writer as well as her deep commitment to the promotion of literature as director of the literary residency, Sangam House.
“This award honours her continued commitment to cultural relationship and cooperation between diverse literary worlds,” the Embassy said in its statement.
“It is always an important moment when the arts are recognised. It is through the arts that we better understand each other and ourselves. The arts remind us of our shared humanity and in our troubled 21st century, this is perhaps the most significant touchstone – that we are more alike than we are different. I thank the French government for acknowledging that by this award,” Sattar said after receiving the award.
In her career as a translator, Sattar has engaged with the great masterpieces of Indian literature: The Ramayana, The Mahabharata, and The Tales from Kathasaritsagara.
In addition to that, she has written several books for children, including The Mahabharata for Children, which was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Prize for Children’s Literature in 2022.
In 2008, she co-founded the literary residency, Sangam House, along with David William Gibson, with the vision of creating a supportive space for writers expressing themselves in regional languages, where they can interact with contemporaries from other cultures and share their perspectives.
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.