STEM Professional of the week



Sam Ortega      
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center




For over 25 years, Sam Ortega has worked on everything from rockets to robots. A native of Edinburg, Texas, he joined NASA in 1987 as a structural stress analyst and progressed rapidly, holding a series of increasingly vital management and leadership positions across the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. Today, Sam serves as a Program Manager for the Centennial Challenges, where he heads the daily oversight and management of NASA’s congressionally mandated prize competition program.

Sam leads his team in developing prize based competitions that will address high-reaching technology goals and engage the technological community whose STEM goals are a high priority. The challenges developed under Sam's leadership have grown to boast an even greater benefit to NASA and in advancing vital technologies. He led the way in overseeing the development of several key events, from conception to completion, including the Green Flight and Sample Return Robot challenges. The team-developed technologies have applications not only for the organization but for the nation. While running a challenge, individuals are trying to solve a problem and whether one wins or not, individuals are aware that they could develop a technology that can create a new business or evolve an emerging industry.

The recipient of numerous honors for his contributions to the nation’s space program, they include a Silver Snoopy Award, presented to Sam by the Astronaut Corps in 2010 for his leadership of the Ballistics and Motor Performance Team. He also earned a Space Flight Honoree Award in 2009 for his exceptional service to and in support of the Reusable Solid Rocket Booster Project.

Sam is a highly visible ambassador for NASA, taking on countless speaking engagements educating students of all ages, teachers and college professors about Centennial Challenges. He also seizes every opportunity to encourage students to pursue a STEM-related education and/or engage in activities that promote the STEM discipline as a whole. Sam has also served as a professional mentor and project leader for young NASA engineers and student interns.

Outside of the agency, Sam is a devoted husband and father to two children. Both children were home-schooled, and Sam was a leader among local families that also home-schooled, teaching classes and workshops and leading field trips. Mr. Ortega supported his son through a robust Boy Scout career, leading camping trips and scouting events. Sam has also been very involved with local theater groups, designing and sewing costumes and even performing when needed. He has also coached numerous youth soccer teams.

Sam holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M University in College Station and was a recipient of a 2014 Great Minds in STEM Luminary Award.



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