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At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Sam Zadeh Helps the World Do the Impossible

We are all captivated by NASA’s images of wonders that are thousands, even millions, of miles away from Earth: spectacular valleys and extinct volcanoes, dry riverbeds that may hold fossils of ancient life, and icy rings around planets that none of us will ever see in person. We cheer when our spacecraft lands on Mars, and we give thanks when our astronauts return safely to Earth. The success of each mission relies on the expertise and dedication of hundreds of people, including Sam Zadeh, who works at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near the California Institute of Technology. As a NASA JPL Project Configuration Manager, Zadeh oversees project teams to ensure the design requirements of spacecraft are accurately and consistently implemented. He is using his skills and passion for the universe to help JPL fulfill its mandate: to look for life beyond Earth and dare mighty things.


Zadeh says that ever since he was a kid, he knew that NASA was his dream career. “The night sky was so vast that it mesmerized me,” he recalls, “and I was insatiably curious about space and the possibility of life elsewhere. With so many mysteries, I wanted to use my career to explore the universe and find answers.”


In college, Zadeh first obtained his bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering before earning his master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in Aerospace Engineering. After graduating, he went on to work for the world’s top aircraft manufacturers, supporting advanced aircraft programs for the Airbus 220 (formerly the Bombardier CSeries), Bombardier Global 7000/8000, and General Dynamics Gulfstream Aerospace G500/600.


“It was exciting work, and because of it, I was able to become a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in my field,” says Zadeh. “Fulfilling as this was, my ultimate goal was to work for NASA, so I applied at JPL and was thrilled when I landed my dream job.”


As a NASA JPL Project Configuration Manager, his duties include tailoring and implementing the institutional CM process requirements on assigned JPL flight projects and ensuring that any changes in the product baseline are identified, assessed, and approved. 


Zadeh is also the Certification of Flight Readiness (CoFR) lead on the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) Mission. He coordinates with project teams to capture required CoFR artifacts that are then presented to NASA JPL institutional directors, confirming certification of the flight readiness of the JPL deliverable prior to mission launch.


Over his time with NASA, Zadeh has supported crucial missions, including SPHEREx, which studies the Big Bang theory and origins of galaxies; Sentinel 6, which is dedicated to understanding climate change; and SWOT (Surface Water Ocean and Topography), which helps to research the world’s oceans.


“All of these projects have been incredible, but my favorite so far has been SPHEREx,” says Zadeh. “It has been very gratifying to contribute to research into what happened less than a billionth of a billionth of a second after the Big Bang. I have loved the challenge of the project. My hope is that SPHEREx will give us evidence of how the first galaxies formed stars so many megaannum ago.”


As Zadeh works to help humanity understand its place in the universe, he invites more people to join him and his peers to advance NASA’s mission.


“We are creating robots to go where we cannot. Every day, we are advancing far beyond what any of us have ever thought possible,” Zadeh says. “The universe and the work that NASA is doing are amazing. If we are willing to challenge conventional thinking and innovate new ideas, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.”

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