Tessy hails from Alappuzha, Kerala.She was born to a small-businessman father and a homemaker mother and did her engineering graduation from Government Engineering College, Thrissur.
She grew up near a rocket launching station and says her fascination with rockets and missiles began then. She also has an M.Tech in Guided Missile from the Institute of Armament Technology, Pune (now known as the Defence Institute of Advanced Technology).
She was named after Nobel peace prize-winner Mother Teresa – but scientist Tessy Thomas made news for heading the team responsible for India’s first missile that can cross continents. With a range of over 5,000 kilometres , the multi-functional Agni V can be used to direct weapons over vast distances – or even launch a 300-kg satellite in a low earth orbit.
She is married to Saroj Kumar, now a commodore in the Indian Navy and they have a son, Tejas, an engineering student who shares his name with India’s indigenously developed light combat aircraft, also made by the DRDO. In a glowing tribute in 2008, The Indian Woman Scientists Association did not forget to mention that “like most women she also does a tight-rope walk between home and career, between being a mother and a scientist who is dedicated to her job. “We feel Tessy Thomas serves as a role model and an inspiration for women scientists to achieve their dreams and have their feet planted in both worlds successfully,” the group said.
Thomas joined the DRDO in 1988 and went on to work under A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the architect of the national missile development programme who later became India’s president.
Celebrated as “Missile Woman” and “Agni-Putri” in the local media, she has lent a new and unusual face to the secretive world of India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
In January, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that Thomas was an example of a “woman making her mark in a traditionally male bastion and decisively breaking the glass ceiling”.
On her future tragets, “I am currently working on mission and guidance (systems) of the multiple independent re-entry vehicle,” the scientist said, referring to proposed new technology to deliver multiple warheads with a single missile.