Benenden’s Sixth Form were lucky to attend a fascinating online talk as part of the Flex Lecture series by Sandra Cauffman, Deputy Director for the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA Headquarters.
Sandra described her journey starting with her early years in Costa Rica, where she was forbidden from studying electrical engineering at university because she was a woman. She then moved to the US where she had to learn English and work in a hardware store in order to gain the linguistic skills and financial security to be able to continue her studies.
She went on to describe her work at NASA over many years and her contribution to multiple space programmes – including the MAVEN mission, which landed on Mars in 2014. She now helps provide executive leadership, strategic direction, and management for the entire agency’s multi-billion Astrophysics programmes. She supports missions necessary to discover how the universe works, to explore how the universe began and developed into its present form, and to search for Earth-like planets.
Sandra has received numerous awards for her work and, due to her extensive work in outreach and STEM in Costa Rica and Latin America, the Government of Costa Rica issued a stamp in her honour in 2017. She ended her talk by encouraging the students to ‘reach for the stars’ in their lives and to really go for what they wish to achieve.