Sandra Cauffman - Goddard's Maven Cooks Up Some Science
From industrial engineering to electrical engineering to physics, Deputy Project Manager Sandra A. Cauffman is a real maven.
Name: Sandra Cauffman Title: Deputy Project Manager for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) Project Formal Job Classification: AST, Project Management Organization: Code 432, MAVEN Project Office, Flight Projects Directorate
What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? How do you help support Goddard’s mission?
As the deputy project manager for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) Project, my job is to assist the project manager to keep the mission on track in terms of budget, schedule and technical requirements. MAVEN is a mission to explore the Martian upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind.
I have undergraduate degrees in physics and electrical engineering plus most of a third degree in industrial engineering. 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.
You don’t really manage people, you manage work. The most important thing about dealing with people is to have good communication, a free flow of information going both ways. People should never be afraid to talk to you about anything, even mistakes. We are all about solving problems together.
I like Goddard because the variety of things we do provides lots of opportunities to learn different things.
What made you want to work for NASA?
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.
MAVEN Deputy Project Manager Sandra Cauffman talks about her work on the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission and her career at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
If somebody asked you, ‘What is Goddard,’ what would you tell them?
We do a lot of cool, cutting edge science. Although the technologies we develop are for space exploration primarily, many also become spin-off technologies, which help the public. For example, Goddard developed the technology behind digital mammography, which was originally conceived for use in terrestrial remote sensing.
If you weren’t in your current profession, what would you be doing?
I would be a chef. I love to cook. I enjoy creating new recipes using unusual ingredients. My father taught me how to cook all types of food. I have never been stumped by a recipe and I have not killed anyone yet. Someday I may open a seasonal Bed and Breakfast. I have also considered starting a business where I teach people how to cook in their own kitchens. I would get them organized in terms of pots and pans, spices and basic ingredients. Then I would teach them basic cooking.
What is the most interesting meal you ever prepared?
For my church’s silent auction, I donated making a dinner valued at almost $500. The meal was a Spanish meal for twelve people including mixed paella with seafood, chicken, and pork; a salad; sangria and a tres leches cake.
Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests, activities outside of work that people do not generally know?
My two sons and my husband are on a rowing team. I also do hot yoga, which is a 90-minute yoga routine done in a 105 degrees Fahrenheit room.
What kind of books do you like to read?
I read cookbooks the way other people read novels. I have three bookcases full of cookbooks about all kinds of cooking.
You recently took your extended family to La Fortuna, Costa Rica for Christmas. What did you do?
Almost everyone in our family went on the zip line, including my 74 year old father-in-law. 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.