Tessy Thomas is an Indian scientist who assumed the position of Director General of Aeronautical Systems in the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in 2018. She was the Project Director for the Agni-IV missile in DRDO. Tessy is known to be the first-ever woman scientist to head a missile project in India. The New Indian Express
Tessy Thomas was born in April 1963 (age 59 years; as of 2022) in Thathampally, Alappuzha, Kerala. Her passion for the subjects of mathematics and science her to pursue a career in the field of science and technology. Growing up near the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station, Thomas was fascinated by rockets and missiles since childhood. She did her schooling at St Michael’s Higher Secondary School and St. Joseph’s Girls Higher Secondary School in Alappuzha. After completing her B.Tech in Electrical Engineering from the University of Calicut in Kerala, she pursued a DRDO-sponsored M.Tech in Guided Missiles from the Institute of Armament Technology (now Defence Institute of Advanced Technology), Pune. Initially, she aspired to become an IAS officer. She even wrote the exam, but she got through the DRDO interview the same day and changed her trajectory. Thereafter, she obtained a PhD in Missile Guidance from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University (JNTU), Hyderabad, Telangana, and an MBA in Operations Management from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi.
Parents & Siblings
Tessy Thomas had a difficult childhood. Her father, Taiparambil Thomas, was left bedridden after a paralytic stroke when Tessy was in Class 8. Her father’s occupation is conflicting. Some media houses state he was an IFS officer India Today, while others state he was a small businessman BBC. Her mother, Kunjamma Thomas, was a learned teacher, but she was not working when Tessy’s father suffered a paralytic stroke. Her mother single-handedly brought up Tessy and her five siblings, four sisters and a brother. Two of her siblings are engineers while another pursued an MBA.
Husband & Children
Her husband, Saroj Kumar Patel, is a navy officer. The couple made acquaintance while studying at the Institute of Armament Technology (now called the Defence Institute of Advanced Technology) in Pune. Her son, Tejas Patel, is a former Manager at Ernst & Young.
She is a Roman Catholic and follows Christianity. BBC
She belongs to a Syrian-Christian Malayali family hailing from Alappuzha, Kerala. The Telegraph
She started her career in the DRDO under Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s stewardship in 1983. Tessy joined DRDO when it was not considered the domain of women, with only five women working in the organization. In 1986, she joined the Institute of Armament Technology (IAT), Pune (now Defence Institute of Advanced Technology) as a faculty member in Guided Missiles. In 1988, she joined the Defence Research & Development Laboratory (DRDL), Hyderabad. Thomas was a junior in the lab when Kalam took over as its director for a couple of years before moving on. At DRDO, from the beginning, she was associated with the ambitious project of developing the Agni Programme right from its developmental flights, contributing in various fields such as Guidance, Control, Inertial Navigation, Trajectory Simulation and Mission Design. She has designed the guidance scheme for long-range missile systems which is used in all Agni missiles. In 2001, she was conferred with Agni Award for Excellence in Self-Reliance. She spearheaded the project AGNI-4 as its Project Director, which displayed a number of new technologies and significant improvements in missile technology. Tessy Thomas with her team prepared and integrated the missile system and launched the missile successfully.
Thomas was also appointed as the project director of the 5,000 km range Agni-V, which was successfully tested on 19 April 2012. While serving as the Director of Advanced Systems Laboratory at DRDO, she held multi-dimensional roles and responsibilities, leading the development of a strategic missile system from 2014 to 2018. On 1 June 2018, she became Director General-Aeronautical Systems. In the same year, she was appointed as Government Nominee Director of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
Hushed up sexual harassment probe against a senior scientist at DRDO
In 2018, a former researcher at DRDO’s high-profile missile unit in Hyderabad complained that her accusation of sexual harassment against a senior scientist was brushed aside by Tessy Thomas, forcing her to escalate the matter to headquarters. In her defence against the accusations, Tessy said,
It does not seem to be a genuine case and we had formed a committee to investigate. The charges were not found to be true”
However, the victim claimed that she was intimidated to withdraw the complaint by Thomas. Thereafter, the victim, who was working with DRDO on a contract, was terminated from service. The Economic Times
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- Agni Award for Excellence in Self-Reliance (2001)
- DRDO Award for Path breaking Research/Outstanding Technology Development (2007)
- DRDO Scientist of the Year Award (2008)
- DRDO Performance Excellence Award for Agni-4 (2011)
- DRDO Performance Excellence Award for Agni-5 (2012)
- Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award for Excellence in Public Administration Academics and Management (2012)
- Suman Sharma Award by The Institution of Engineers (India)
- National Design and Research Forum for Engineering Design (2009)
- Madam Marie Curie Mahila Vijnana Puraskar (2012)
- Dr Y. Nayudamma Memorial Award (2014) for Outstanding Contributions to the field of Missile Technology
- Bharat Ratna Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya Award (2016) towards outstanding contributions in the field of Engineering towards design, development and realization of indigenous missile systems by The Institution of Engineers (India), Telangana State Centre, Hyderabad
- Distinguished Woman Scientist Award (2016) for her contributions to the field of Missile Technology by Andhra Pradesh Science Congress, Andhra Pradesh Academy of Sciences
- FICCI Award (2018)
- Keertan Sanjeevani Pushpalata Ranade women’s national award (2018)
- Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam Award (2022)
- Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) from IIT, Kanpur in 2019
- Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) from Central University of Karnataka, Kalaburagi in 2018
- Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) from Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Agra in 2017
- Doctor of Literature (Honoris Causa) from ITM University, Gwalior in 2016
- Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) from Sri Padmavati Mahila Vishwavidyalaya University, Tirupathi in 2015
- Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) from Hindustan University, Chennai in 2014
- Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) from Mangalayatan University, Aligarh in 2012
- Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) in Space Science from Kalyani University, West Bengal in 2012
- In an interview, she scored hundred percent marks in mathematics during Class 11 and 12.
- She took an education loan of Rs. 100 per month from the State Bank of India to study Engineering at Government Engineering College.
- She is often referred to as “India’s Missile Woman” and “Agni Putri” (the daughter of fire) India Today She loves the moniker more so because her role model, APJ Abdul Kalam, is called the Missile Man.
- She was named after Mother Teresa, Tessy being a derivative of Teresa or Tressia. DD News – YouTube India Today
- In an interview, she said that she found ironing clothes a great stress-buster.
- She was the secretary of the DRDO ladies’ club, she spent time organising events for the wives of DRDO officers and other women scientists on weekends.
- In 2017, Anand Mahindra, an Indian billionaire businessman and the chairman of Mahindra Group, via his tweet said that DRDO’s Tessy, the first woman to head an Indian missile project, deserves to be more famous than any Bollywood star.
- She is a non-vegetarian. The Telegraph Fish curry and rice is her favourite food.
- In an interview, she revealed that she loves watching typical Indian “Saas and Bahu” TV soaps in her leisure time, a hobby which seems unusual for a woman who loves science. While talking about her fondness for TV serials, in an interview, she said,
That is how I unwind. I like the way the actors are all so well-dressed and neatly turned out…my husband says the same thing, how do you watch these serials? But I like them.”
- She loves playing badminton and was a champion in the sport at school and college.