Feature

Andrea Razzaghi: Getting People and Hardware Working Together
06.10.04
Photograph of Andrea Razzaghi
Hundreds of skilled scientists, engineers and others have worked many thousands of hours over several years to make sure the Aura mission is a success.

Image to right: Andrea Razzaghi managed the design of the Aura spacecraft. Credit: NASA

Will the spacecraft reach the correct orbit? Will the science instruments onboard activate and operate according to plan? How do you put all the pieces together in the right way at the right time?

Ask Andrea Razzaghi.

Getting everything and everyone to blend their separate roles is both her challenge and her job at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center near Washington, D.C.

Razzaghi manages the work involved in designing the spacecraft and making sure that everything works together. Her job ends successfully only when the spacecraft is in its correct orbit and the instruments are sending their data back to Earth.

Photograph of Andrea Razzaghi posing with a group
Image to left: Andrea Razzaghi has learned how important it is to work together as a team. Credit: NASA

Launch of a rocket scientist

How did Razzaghi decide to become a rocket scientist? She says that she always had an interest in how things work.

Growing up, she had her share of traditional "little girl" toys, as she calls them, like Easy Bake ovens. But helping her parents restore an old house introduced her to the wonders of a workshop full of interesting tools and problems to solve.

In high school, science and math were her favorite subjects. They prepared her for pursuing engineering degrees from Brown and Catholic universities. But ask her today if English is one of the most important subjects in high school and her loud reply is, "Yes!" She explains that speaking well and writing well are critical skills. They're important both professionally and personally.

Her strongest advice for high school and college students is, "Get to know your teachers. Talk to them. Ask them questions. You can learn so much more easily if you do."

And for fun? One of her favorite hobbies is dancing, especially Middle Eastern dancing. Although born and raised in America, learning foreign languages fascinates her too. Fluent in Farsi, she also speaks some Spanish and a bit of Dutch.

Razzaghi admits that one of her professional difficulties is knowing when to accept "good enough." She explains, "Engineers are perfectionists, but if you always waited until something is perfect, you'd never get anything done. ... You need to know when it's time to stop."

What's the difference between a scientist and an engineer? Razzaghi says that scientists are the dreamers. They think of what they want to do and what they want to accomplish. Engineers? ... "We're the ones who build the machines so the scientists can make their discoveries."

Adapted with permission: ChemMatters magazine © American Chemical Society 2002
Edited by Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies