Woman from Costa Rica has key role in Mars exploration

A woman from Costa Rica is the deputy project manager for a spacecraft that is expected to blast off Monday carrying a probe that will study the Martian atmosphere.

She is Sandra Cauffman, and the project is called MAVEN, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission.

Ms. Cauffman, was quoted saying she has worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for 24 years.  The space agency interviewed her for a news release, and she said “When I was seven years old and living in Costa Rica where I was born, I watched the Apollo 11 landing. Ever since, I always wanted to work for NASA. After working here 24 years, I have never had a day that I did not want to come to work.”

She works at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and her job is to assist the project manager to keep the mission on track in terms of budget, schedule and technical requirements, she said.

“I have undergraduate degrees in physics and electrical engineering plus most of a third degree in industrial engineering,” she said. “I also have a masters in electrical engineering. This gives me a unique background even for Goddard. My degrees help me understand both the science and engineering aspects of this mission.”

NASA featured her in a video about the project in which she spoke Spanish.  The video is the first in a two-part Spanish-language series that aims to make MAVEN more accessible to Spanish-speaking communities, NASA said.

Ms. Cauffman is married with two sons. NASA said that she took her extended family to La Fortuna for Christmas.

“Almost everyone in our family went on the zip line, including my 74-year-old father-in-law,” she said in the NASA interview.. “A zip line is a metal line that goes through the canopy from tree to tree at a few hundred feet above the ground. We also rode the Tarzan Swing, which is a swing several hundred feet above the tree canopy. It was scary, but once you were flying through the air it was lots of fun.

MAVEN is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere.  It will orbit the planet in an elliptical orbit that allows it to pass through and sample the entire upper atmosphere on every orbit.  The spacecraft will investigate how the loss of Mars’ atmosphere to space determined the history of water on the surface.

The launch Monday is at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Complex 41 in Florida. The two-hour launch window extends from 1:28 to 3:28 p.m. eastern time, NASA said.

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