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Sam Zadeh: Helping NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to Find Answers to Our Deepest Questions

No matter who we are or what part of this beautiful planet we call home, the infinite wonders of space call to us. We are awed by marvels like Olympus Mons, a shield volcano on Mars that is 16 miles high and 374 miles in diameter, and the dozens of geysers on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s 83 moons. Most of us are content to wait for the next photos of galaxies, planets, and stars from the James Webb Telescope and to learn from scientists just what is out there. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Project Configuration Manager Sam Zadeh, however, decided at a young age that he wanted to spend his life at the forefront of space exploration. Today, at JPL, Zadeh oversees project teams to ensure the design requirements of spacecraft are accurately and consistently implemented. He is dedicating his career to advancing humankind into the vast reaches of the universe and to helping future generations answer the biggest questions of them all: are we alone? And, how did our universe begin?

“Space and its mysteries captured my imagination when I was just a kid,” Zadeh remembers. “I was probably like so many people who eventually work at NASA: insatiably curious and not satisfied with easy answers or intellectual limits. While some were content to keep their feet on the ground and live their lives on Earth, so to speak, I couldn’t stop looking upward and speculating on what awaited us if we could only get there.”

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 to 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, Zadeh’s 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 before 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 second after the Big Bang. I loved the challenge of the project. I hope that SPHEREx will give us evidence of how the first galaxies formed stars so many mega annum ago.”

Zadeh knows that his biggest contribution to NASA JPL and the overall space program will be the pieces of the puzzle that he helps to fill in.

“We are nowhere close to understanding everything in the observable universe, let alone what we cannot see,” he says. “Space is more like a puzzle that isn’t finished yet and whose pieces remain to be discovered. My job is to help find another piece and put it in its proper place. That way, future NASA JPL employees will be empowered to go even further until one day when the whole puzzle is complete and we can see the beauty of the universe in its entirety.”

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