Smiling woman in the space exhibit of a science museum.
Samantha stands next to a cutout of Alan Shepard, the first American in space. Credit: Samantha Walters

Where are you from?

I grew up outside of Philadelphia in southern New Jersey, and now I live in Baltimore.

Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.

I knew I wanted to be an aerospace engineer the first time I saw “Apollo 13,” after the scene where the engineers use the box of random junk to fix the CO2 filters and save the astronauts. The first time it hit me that I was really getting to do that was while I was an intern at JPL, and I got to sit in the "darkroom" behind the desk they use to send commands to the Mars Opportunity rover.

How did you end up working on the Europa Clipper project, what is your role, and what part(s) of the project are you working on?

In 2016, I made the difficult decision to leave JPL and move back to the east coast to be closer to family. About six months later, I got a call from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) saying they were looking for someone with JPL operations experience to be a mission planner on Europa Lander, and a few months after accepting the job, I ended up on Europa Clipper. I’m now a space mission planner focusing on the interplanetary cruise mission phase. I get to interface with all of the subsystems and instrument teams and use their specifications to create a plan for how to achieve the goals of the mission. Then, I use software to model things like power usage and data volume to make sure that the plan will work.

Tell us about a favorite moment in your career.

While I love the technical aspects of my job, my favorite moments are always when I get to do some type of outreach. Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer at open houses, visit middle and high schools, talk to college clubs, and even write a few articles for Aerospace America. Showing the public all of the amazing work that APL and NASA are doing, and helping to inspire the next generation of explorers, is what I love to do most.

"I knew I wanted to be an aerospace engineer the first time I saw 'Apollo 13,' after the scene where the engineers use the box of random junk to fix the CO2 filters and save the astronauts."
- Samantha Walters

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?

Network and talk to as many people as you can, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! People who work in aerospace are almost always passionate and love talking about what they do. Making connections with people in the industry is not only a great way to learn new things, but could also lead to exciting opportunities in the future.

What do you do for fun outside of work?

I mentor the Baltimore Bolts, a high school FIRST robotics team in Baltimore. I also love to cook (I’m currently trying to master the art of macarons) and hang out with my fiancé and dog.

Who inspires you?

I’m lucky to have lots of inspiring women in my life whom I look up to, both within and outside of the space industry. They include the many strong women that I have gotten to work with and learn from throughout my education and career, and especially my mother, whose work ethic and passion for helping others I hope to emulate.

What is your favorite space movie, book, or image?

Can I choose a poem? “If only we had taller been” is a poem that Ray Bradbury wrote to honor the Mariner 9 mission after it became the first spacecraft to orbit Mars in 1971. There’s a cool video of him reading it during a panel with Carl Sagan at JPL. I have always enjoyed reading and writing poetry, so something that combines that with my love of space exploration is an easy favorite. Plus, I just really love the line “I send my rockets forth between my ears” because it reminds me to never stop dreaming!