Anita Sengupta, the engineer of the flying taxis that take off in 2023 |  Profiles Ideas

Anita Sengupta, the engineer of the flying taxis that take off in 2023 | Profiles Ideas

It could be an unclassifiable superhero from Marvel or DC. In the morning, she teaches her students from the University of Southern California how to design interplanetary ships; in the afternoon, from her company Hydroplane, she deciphers the potential of hydrogen to replace fossil fuels; she then connects with colleagues at NASA to advise them on missions to Mars or Venus, and, at sunset, she flies over the Grand Canyon in a small plane as she envisions the coming clean flying vehicle revolution.

The aerospace engineer Anita Sengupta is not just any superhero, she has always sought to break the mold, prejudices. For her there is no stress, only challenges. In the most complex missions, the brown ones that everyone wants to avoid, she steps up. She encourages him to get out of her comfort zone. American of Indian and Scottish origin, Sengupta (Glasgow, 45 years old) was responsible for planning the landing on Mars of the mission curiosity of 2012 from NASA, an idea so effective that it has been used again in the expedition perseverance of 2020.

The system integrates a hyper-resistant parachute (the rover weighs about a ton), a heat shield and retrorockets that reduce the supersonic speed of the ship from about 2,000 kilometers per hour, to 1 kilometer. All in seconds and with a single opportunity for the robot, valued at around 2,500 million euros, to land on the Martian surface.

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After 16 years at the space agency, his eyes are now on the problems of the Earth and, above all, on hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe. His research, which receives support from the US Air Force, seeks to harness energy power through a process called fuel cell. Gaseous molecules release electrons that provide electricity. Sengupta and his team, which due to its multiethnic and multidisciplinary profile could well overshadow that of The Avengers (the Avengers), work to decarbonize aviation, one of the most polluting types of transport.

The new generation of electric aircraft eVOLT (for its acronym in English), of which companies such as Airbus or Boeing already have prototypes that look like large drones, are waiting to flood the skies of the cities. The first flying taxis are expected to operate in 2023. “Anita brings you into her world with the abundant enthusiasm that she radiates in everything she does,” says British Darrell Swanson, director of Swanson Aviation, which specializes in electric aircraft.

Sengupta’s creativity is a laser that sneaks into the corners. The Space Station, for example, has a laboratory that she designed to freeze atoms and analyze them, something unprecedented due to the volatility of the particles. Her laser, however, has run into a wall: the Hyperloop magnetic levitation train that would allow you to go from Madrid to Barcelona in 45 minutes. While she was vice president of Virgin Hyperloop, Sengupta assumed that the high costs made the project unfeasible for the moment.

Anita Sengupta grew up in New York immersed in comics and science fiction movies, drawing interstellar trips as one more passenger of the USS Enterprisethe mythical ship of the series star trek. In her own film she would be the commander and hers would be her first officers Spock, the pointy-eared, methodical Vulcan who has inspired him, and Data, the silver-skinned android who is always looking for a better version of himself and the better. what it means to be human

“We are all made of stardust. We are part of something bigger ”, he underlines in his conferences around the world like a mantra. His love of exploration and aviation is tied to his multicultural background: his father, an engineer from Bengal; her mother, a British French teacher, and her early emigration to the United States. As a child, her first flights across the Atlantic to visit her family in the UK would mark her forever.

Sengupta is a commercial pilot and a civil aviation disaster volunteer. “She is a careful, knowledgeable pilot. She doesn’t take unnecessary risks. She is the person I would have liked to be when she was her age, ”says Indian researcher and pilot Sandya Narayanswami. They met at the Caltech Flying Club, where they traded as pilot and co-pilot. Narayanswami, 67, highlights conversations about the obstacles they have had as a woman and of Indian origin. “The women of my generation were looking for husbands and that was the end of the story. How often do you see two Indians piloting a plane?” she exclaims.

For Anita it has been one more mold that she has broken. She is not only an aerospace engineer and pilot, but also an expert in scuba diving, climbing, snowboarding, motorcycling. She loves living in the real world, listening to the natural world and, of course, dancing and laughing to a Bollywood musical. When she visits India she is greeted like a rock star.

Faced with climate change or the possibility of nuclear conflict, he continues to believe in the future. She is convinced of the human interconnectedness and that we will find the solutions. As a young man, a math teacher gave him a superpower that hasn’t left him. He gave her confidence and she believed him.

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