N Valarmathi — the voice behind ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 launch countdown — sadly passed away in Chennai on the evening of 2 September, 2023, from a heart attack. 

Title image credit:  Dr P V Venkitakrishnan on X.

She worked in the Range Operations Programme Office at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, where she used to announce the countdown for all launches, according to ISRO.

“The voice of Valarmathi Madam will not be there for the countdowns of future missions of ISRO from Sriharikota. Chandrayaan-3 was her final countdown announcement. An unexpected demise. Feel so sad. Pranams!” wrote Dr P V Venkitakrishnan, former director at ISRO, on X (formerly Twitter).

Born and raised in Ariyalur, Tamil Nadu, Valarmathi completed her engineering at the Government College of Technology, Coimbatore, and her master’s in electronics and communication at Anna University, Chennai.

After completing her education, Valarmathi had offers from both DRDO and ISRO, and she chose the latter in 1984, recalls her brother Sampath in an interview with The Hindu.

“Her power of concentration was remarkable. No matter the noise of a blaring radio, my sister’s concentration on studies was total,” he adds.

Image credit: Dr. P V Venkitakrishnan on X

Part of several missions — including Insat 2A, IRS IC, IRS ID, and TES — Valarmathi was the project director of RISAT-1, India’s first indigenously developed Radar Imaging Satellite, which was successfully launched in April 2012.

The project took around ten years to finish, during which she climbed the ranks from deputy project director and associate project director to become the project director for PSLV-C19-RISAT-1 mission.

As per a Deccan Herald report, after T K Anuradha, project director of the GSAT-12 mission in 2011, Valarmathi was the second female scientist of ISRO to head a prestigious project.

In 2015, she became the first recipient of the prestigious Abdul Kalam Award for leading the RISAT team and her numerous contributions to Indian space missions.

“I owe it to the support from people in my office and from my family. I would say all women are equally capable and they all have very good potential; it should be properly utilised,” she said in an interview with the Deccan Herald.