biography Susmita Mohanty, PhD

Featured on the cover of Fortune Magazine [2017] and voted into Financial Times’ [2012] list of “25 Indians to Watch”,one of the 2019 BBC 100 Women laureates, Susmita Mohanty is a spaceship designer, climate ambassador and entrepreneur extraordinaire. She seamlessly straddles the worlds of technology, business, design, architecture, and art. A cosmopolite and global nomad, she has traveled widely and has lived in India, United States and Europe. Featured in San Francisco’s Hot 20 Under 40 [2004] by the city's leading glamour magazine, Susmita has been variously called - THE MOONWALKER, JOHN GLENN(OVICH), and PRODIGY - by the Press.

A protégée of Arthur C. Clarke, the late science fiction writer and author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Susmita is blurring the boundaries between science fiction and reality via her orbital enterprise. Susmita is the only space entrepreneur in the world who has founded companies on 3 different continents. Susmita co-founded MOONFRONT [2001-07], an aerospace consulting firm based in San Francisco. She co-founded LIQUIFER Systems Group [2004-ongoing], an aerospace architecture and design firm in Vienna. In 2008, she moved back to India and launched her 3rd venture EARTH2ORBIT (E2O).

E2O has had 3 Avatars since its inception. In its 1st Avatar (2009-2016), E2O focused on facilitating international launches on the PSLV rocket. E2O played a pivotal role in opening the US launch market for India despite an embargo and regulatory hurdles and providing launch access to American companies to fly on the Indian PSLV rocket. E2O played an instrumental role in the launch a Japanese satellite in 2012 and a Google satellite in 2016. In its 2nd Avatar (2017-2020), E2O committed itself to supporting global climate action by developing Earth Observation (EO) Analytics models using open-source Satellite Data and Machine Learning algorithms. Focus areas included smart cities, agriculture, water security, renewable energy. In its 3rd and final Avatar (2020-onwards), E2O will create a broadcast cluster and leverage digital media to share space exploration stories from India and from around the world. E2O hopes to foster a new 21st space exploration narrative that will steer clear of the (western) hemispherical bias of the 20th century narrative that underplayed the accomplishments of the eastern hemisphere.

In 2005, Susmita was honored on Capitol Hill (Washington DC) with the International Achievement Award by Women in Aerospace, for promoting international cooperation through entrepreneurship. Before turning an entrepreneur, Susmita worked in business development for the International Space Station [ISS] program at Boeing in Huntington Beach, California. She also worked on Shuttle-Mir missions at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Via her companies, Susmita consults to space projects involving aerospace companies, non-profits, the European Space Agency [ESA], NASA, and the Indian Space Research Organization [ISRO].

Susmita served as a political appointee from December 2017 to May 2019 in the eastern state of Odisha in India. At the invitation of the Chief Minister of Odisha Mr. Naveen Patnaik, she served as the Chairperson of Mo School in the rank of a Minister of State. Mo School is an alumni philanthropic platform that covers over 65,000 government schools and 7.2 million children. Under her leadership, Mo School created history in the world of alumni philanthropy in India by raising nearly 30 crores (US$ 4.25 Million) from alumni worldwide in its debut year, a milestone that took the top Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) nearly ten years to accomplish. 

Other educational and children-related initiatives that Susmita has been involved in include SSOAR [2002-07], a space education non-profit in Berkeley [USA] that she co-founded. SSOAR ran two schools in Oakland’s inner city. The idea was to motivate kids from troubled backgrounds (exposed to gangs, drugs, violence) to attend school by designing an innovative curriculum that used “space exploration” as a means to inspire and stir them away from drugs, gangs and violence. Yet another endeavor that sought to inspire the young includes the Clarke-Bradbury International Science Fiction [story writing] Competition [2003, 2005] sponsored by the European Space Agency [ESA] and the Space Generation Forum (SGF) hosted at UNISPACE-III, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UN-OOSA) [1999].

Susmita’s love affair with human spaceflight began early. She sent her first idea to NASA when she was in high school, and has since never looked back. Brought up in Ahmedabad, home to the founder of India’s space program Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Susmita grew up amongst the pioneers of the Indian space agency (ISRO), her dad being one of them. Educated in India, France, and Sweden, Susmita has an eclectic background. She has a Bachelor's in Electrical Engineering from L.D. College of Engineering (LDCE) and a Master's in Industrial Design from the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad [India]. She also has a Master's in Space Studies from the International Space University (ISU) in Strasbourg [France]. She holds a Licentiate Degree from the Lund Institute of Technology [Sweden] as well as a PhD in Aerospace Architecture from the Chalmers University of Technology [Sweden].

Nominated for the 2004 MIT TR100 Awards [World’s Top 100 Young Innovators], Susmita is one of the pioneers of a new genre of space architecture called Trans-Gravity that takes a multi-disciplinary approach to designing future systems. The Vienna company LIQUIFER that she co-founded, is based on this genre. This genre subscribes to the philosophy that we cannot draw a line between Earth and Space, because we already live on a Spaceship (called Earth). Projects includes: Advanced Concepts for Habitation and Transportation Systems for Moon and Mars Exploration, Integrated Planetary Mission Simulators, Wireless Augmented Reality Prototype for Shuttle and Space Station Astronauts, Zero-G Whole Body Cleansing System, Microgravity Restraint Systems, Space Station Illumination Studies, Space Suit Design, Human Factors Analyses.

Susmita was nominated to the Senate of the National Institute of Design or NID [2019] India’s premier institution for design education and one of her Alma Maters. She has been nominated to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Future Council for Space Technologies for three consecutive years [2016-19]. She was member of Commission VI of the International Academy of Astronautics [IAA] and got elected to the Academy, as one of its youngest members [2007]. She was a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics [AIAA] Aerospace Architecture Technical Committee [SATC] for nearly a decade while residing in California. She has authored many technical papers and is the co-author of the book: “Transcripts of an Architectural Journey: Musings towards a New Genre in [Space] Architecture”. She chairs international conference sessions.

Susmita has taught studio courses and led workshops at premier architecture and design schools in the United States and Europe. She is often invited for talks. Her most memorable lecture experiences so far: the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs UN-OOSA) [Vienna] attended by four hundred young delegates from around the world and the Space Physics Institute (IRF) [Kiruna] in the Swedish Arctic.

Susmita is an international celebrity and is invited to space, economic, policy, security, technology, and design forums worldwide. Over the past two decades, Susmita has been invited as a Celebrity Speaker, Thought Leader, Innovator, Interdisciplinary Expert, Space Entrepreneur, Renaissance Woman – for events across the Planet. Selected list of Global Engagements: United Nations, Rockefeller Foundation, Stanford University, MIT, Columbia University, École Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle, Tuck Global Leadership Program, The Economist, TIME, Airbus, Tata, Boston Consulting Group, World Resources Institute, Yunus Social Business, Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts, Antarctic Biennale, Industrial Light and Magic, Paris Air Show, Halifax Security Forum, St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, World Economic Forum.

Susmita has been widely featured in magazines and newspapers worldwide: BBC [London], FINANCIAL TIMES [London], BLOOMBERG [New York], MINT [Mumbai], INDIAN EXPRESS [Mumbai], THE HINDU [Bangalore], DECCAN HERALD [Bangalore], HINDUSTAN TIMES [Mumbai], TIMES OF INDIA [Mumbai], DOMUS [Milan], MARK [Amsterdam], VOGUE [Mumbai], SURFACE [New York], DWELL [San Francisco], GÖTEBORGPOSTEN [Göteborg], and HELSINGIN SANOMAT [Helsinki], among others. Her work has also been profiled on MSNBC, CNN-IBN, BBC.com, SPACE.com, ESA.int, and NASA.gov. Susmita has been a consultant to / interviewed for space-related media properties with Discovery Channel [Canada], National Geographic [USA], Pioneer TV [London], Raum Film [Vienna], Public Broadcasting Service-PBS [USA], August Films [Los Angeles], KTSF [San Francisco], and Sputnik [New York]. The BBC [London, Delhi] and Monocle [London] often invite her on their radio broadcasts to talk about India space program and ongoing missions to Moon and Mars.

Susmita enjoys offbeat assignments. She helped create a NASA presence [2007] in the virtual world Second Life™ [secondlife.com]. She was a member of an international crew that lived in isolation on a simulated Martian outpost in the Utah desert [2004]. She has spent a night on a World War-II submarine [2003] off the San Francisco bay. She trained for parabolic flights at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre [1997] in Houston. She was invited to talk [2004] to digital artists about how one goes about creating advanced concepts for space habitats and transportation systems at George Lucas’ company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) that creates special effects for Hollywood films including Star Wars. She has produced films for the Arthur Clarke Gala [2001] hosted at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. Hollywood celebrities at the Gala included sci-fi and space savvy Tom Hanks, James Cameron, Morgan Freeman, and Patrick Stewart [Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek].

Susmita lives a renaissance life, a life without boundaries. Engagements include: [2010-11] served as a Program Consultant to the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts [Washington DC] for the Maximum India Festival, [2014] participated in an Art-Science Residency at KHOJ in New Delhi, [2015] organized an underwater movement workshop for contemporary dancers with French choreographer Kitsou Dubois and GATI Dance Forum.

In 2007, Susmita was invited to participate in the 1st ever cultural expedition to the icy continent down south – the 1st Antarctic Biennale. She is a member of the Antarctic Biennale Vision Club (ABVC), a unique community of artists, curators, art critics, scientists, philosophers, divers, designers, film-makers – questioning human activities that are destroying our home planet, rethinking the future of unclaimed lands on and off the planet, and emphasizing the blur that separates exploration from exploitation.

Susmita co-founded the City As A Spaceship (CAAS) Collective [2007] with Siddharth Das [Bangalore], Barbara Imhof [Vienna] and Sue Fairburn [Vancouver]. CAAS celebrates the reciprocities between terrestrial and extra-terrestrial architecture and design. CAAS is a new way of thinking about humans and their relationships with their habitats, transporters and their environment, an intelligent way of designing future cities and retrofitting existing ones.

Susmita and her partner Siddharth Das co-founded the Mumbai Architecture & Design (MAD) Salon [2010]. The MAD Salon aspires to catalyse a movement to make architecture and design more relevant. It provides a platform for passionate discourse and debate. Originally conceived to focus on architecture and design as primary elements of nation building, it has morphed into a lens to look at a broader narrative: culture, aesthetics, the arts, the city, social interaction, mobility, human behaviour, politics, economics, urbanism, and more. The MAD Lab is the hands-on twin of the MAD Salon. It is a laboratory that promotes experiments and exploratory projects at the intersection of the arts, architecture, design, technology and contemporary culture.

In 2014, Susmita moved her base camp to Bangalore, the ones prior being Mumbai, San Francisco, Huntington Beach, Strasbourg, and Ahmedabad. An ardent traveller and explorer, she is probably the only person in the world to have visited the Arctic [2009] and Antarctica [2017], on invitation. She believes that what happened to commercial aviation in the 20th century will happen to private spaceflight in the 21st century. She hopes that someday, she can take long sorties on the Moon. And perhaps, even sit back, relax and watch the Earth float by.