Samuel Nathan Richards
Mission Operations Specialist, NASA
BSc(Hons) Astrophysics with Sandwich Year, 2012
What is your current role and how did you get to this point in your career?
I am a Mission Operations Specialist for NASA's SOFIA mission in Palmdale, California (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy). I am responsible for the preparation and operation of the 2.5m infrared telescope aboard NASA's SOFIA 747SP aircraft. This is my first job after completing a BSc(Hons) Astrophysics from the University of Hertfordshire, and a PhD Astrophysics and Astrophotonics from the University of Sydney, Australia.
How did your studies at the University of Hertfordshire help shape your career?
I would not be where I am without the opportunities that opened up whilst studying at the University of Hertfordshire. From extracurricular projects, to connections with other world ranking universities, I can but thank the University for their guidance and support that kick-started my career.
What made you decide to study at this University?
In 6th-form, my physics teacher gave me a promo video that featured Bayfordbury Observatory, and it was at that moment that I realised that I wanted to study at the University of Hertfordshire. Then when I discovered how strong their astronomy department was, even though small in comparison to other 'red-bricks', I felt that this was an environment that I could thrive in.
What was the best or most useful thing about your course?
The lecturers were world class active astronomers, meaning that each class was dynamic to the ever changing knowledge of their respective fields of research. Their willingness to accept keen students for extracurricular research projects gave me early on a 1st-hand experience of the career I was about to launch myself into. Their international connections opened a path for me to do a research year at the University of Sydney, where I would later return to and complete a PhD!
What is your stand out memory from your time at the University?
I had the privilege to participate and serve the Hertfordshire Hurricanes American Football Club as president for a couple of years, whilst undertaking a thrilling course of study. The AmFootball club was incredible. No superlatives can describe just how much I got out of that club, from life lessons to fitness to friendships to heaps of fun!
Are you still in contact with friends you met at the University of Hertfordshire?
Yes! Even though we're now spread out over the world, we keep in contact (made easy with social media), and catch up once in a while if travelling puts us in the same geolocation.
What advice would you give your younger self if you were starting at the University tomorrow?
Be active. Study smart not hard. Do the assignments early, help your friends with theirs. Joining a club is a must! Help the University with open days. Make friends with your lecturers, not for improving grades, but for opening doors for post-Uni life!
Do you have any advice for University of Hertfordshire graduates who are considering a career in your industry?
I didn't know I'd end up here, but enjoyed the journey, and took opportunities when they arose. Do the same. Find what you enjoy and do that, over money or status or fame. There are many routes to where I am now, as my colleagues came from very different backgrounds: astronomy, electrical and mechanical engineering, computer science, etc, and that's just my role, let alone all the other roles under NASA's umbrella.
What are your future career plans/ ambitions?
I'd like to eventually become a 'Mission Director' for NASA's SOFIA mission, but beyond that I'm not entirely sure. I'll do what I get enjoyment out of for as long as I can / life permits. On a flip side, I've always wanted to move to the Japanese countryside and live out a simple life there. Perhaps that.