Marleen Martinez Sundgaard knew from the age of five she wanted to be an astronaut and has pursued that dream with great drive and passion. The child of migrant farm workers, she split her time between the United States and Mexico, achieving top marks at schools in both countries, even with just a conversational knowledge of Spanish.
While in middle school she was encouraged to enter an essay contest and won a trip to the U.S. Space Academy in Huntsville, Alabama. The week she spent training like a real astronaut cemented her career decision.
Studying Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering at the University of Washington she earned her bachelors of science degree in 2006. After graduation she began working at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company working as a test engineer on various satellite projects as well as working on the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. As a senior system integration test engineer for the Orion she wrote and tested the scripts that connected the hardware of the craft together and made sure the commands were reaching the correct component.
At the age of 17, Sundgaard read an article about an actress with Tourette Syndrome, and discovered that she had been diagnosed with TS at the age of seven. Her mother was told that she would grow out of her tics, so she didn’t tell her daughter about the diagnosis. Sundgaard has said she doesn’t feel like TS has had a negative impact on her career, instead she feels it helps her be more focused. And she brings that message to children each year as the Assistant Camp Director of Tourette Syndrome Camp USA.
In February of 2016 Sundgaard began working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab as a systems engineer in the NASA Engineering and Safety Center. It is her sincere hope that when it comes time to select crew for the missions using the Orion, having been part of the team to assemble and test the craft will put in her in a unique position among the applicants and her dream of traveling to space will become a reality.
Written by Angela Goad