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Women of SDO - Sarah D. Mitchell
 
Sarah D. Mitchell poses with SDO mascot Camilla Corona in front of a composite image of our Sun. › View larger
Sarah D. Mitchell poses with SDO mascot Camilla Corona in front of a composite image of our Sun taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Credit: NASA
Q & A with Sarah

What first sparked your interest in science or engineering?
When I was a kid growing up on our small horse farm in Michigan, I used to stand in the horse’s pasture with my mom and look up at the stars in wonderment. I could easily see the Milky Way and often saw the Northern Lights dancing in the night sky. Space intrigued and boggled my mind. I studied astronomy in high school and realized I had a natural ability in math and science. I was also a part of the Science Olympiad team in high school which encouraged both the engineering and science minds. I loved to learn and create and the opportunities to facilitate these traits were endless in these two fields.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy three specific things about my job, which highly motivate me and are the reasons why I continue to do what I am doing with my life. In no particular order, these things are: 1) the people I work with, 2) the content (solar science and engineering), and 3) the constant challenge and opportunity to learn and grow.
What advice would you give to students who would like to work on a project such as SDO?
I truly believe that you can achieve most anything you desire in this world by hard work, faith and dedication. I also believe that having a good education is a keystone to success.
What do you do on an average day?
As a systems engineer and as a flight operations lead, I do a lot of running around, believe it or not! Depending on what phase of a program we are in, you might find me doing any of the following on an average day (though I’d hardly call any day “average”): leading planning meetings, writing requirements verification reports, operating the instruments on-orbit, supporting Integration and Test efforts (in a bunny suit sometimes!), or presenting at reviews. I enjoy the variety of my job – it is always interesting and never boring.
What are the greatest challenges of your job?
I’d say the greatest challenge of my job is maintaining balance. Evenly meeting the demands of cost, schedule and technical excellence can be extremely challenging, as well as meeting the needs of individuals. Technical anomalies are always difficult but I dare say they may be one of the favorite parts of an engineer’s job – solving a complex problem without an obvious solution – I think we love the challenge!
What is your favorite hobby/activity outside of work?
Having a life/work balance is very important to me. My favorite hobbies outside of work are yoga and photography. I was recently certified as a yoga instructor and I am active in a local photo club. I also enjoy hiking, running, knitting, reading and sailboat racing.



About Sarah

Full Name: Sarah D. Mitchell

Position/Title: SDO AIA/HMI Flight Operations Lead

Hometown (City,State): Paw Paw, MI (currently live in San Francisco, CA)

Education:
  • San Jose State University College of Business/Engineering – Dual MBA/MSE Engineering Management January 2008
  • University of Michigan – B.S.E. Aerospace Engineering May 2003
Career Highlights:
  • Research programmer for Cassini-Huygens program
  • Systems and test engineer for GOES-NOP SXI programs
  • Lead Systems engineer for Solar-B FPP and SDO AIA programs
  • Lead Flight Operations engineer for SDO AIA/HMI
  • Successful launches and on-orbit operations for SXI, FPP, and AIA/HMI!
What influenced your career choice?

When I was a kid growing up on our small horse farm in Michigan, I used to stand in the horse’s pasture with my mom and look up at the stars in wonderment. I could easily see the Milky Way and often saw the Northern Lights dancing in the night sky. Space intrigued and boggled my mind. I studied astronomy in high school and realized I had a natural ability in math and science. With the encouragement and support of my parents and other role models, I pursued a career in aerospace engineering.

Hobbies and Interests:
  • Yoga – I was recently certified as an instructor!
  • Photography – I belong to a photo club and thoroughly enjoy it
  • Hiking – I recently got to hike the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru!
  • Sailboat racing, running, knitting, reading