News Release

NASA’s Sandra Irish wins 2023 Society of Women Engineers Award

Grant and Award Announcement

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA’s Sandra Irish Wins 2023 Society of Women Engineers Award


Sandra Irish, lead structures engineer for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, stands in front of the nearly fully tested observatory she dedicated a significant part of her career to working on, just prior to its shipment to the launch site.

Northrop Grumman

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Credit: Northrop Grumman

Sandra Irish, mechanical systems lead structures engineer for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, has been selected to receive the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Resnik Challenger Medal Award for her visionary contributions to the development, testing, transport, and launch of NASA’s premier space telescope since 2006. The medal was awarded during the World’s Largest Conference for Women in Engineering and Technology or WE23, which took place Oct. 26-28 in Los Angeles.

As an engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for over 40 years, Irish’s mechanical systems expertise has helped to ensure the successful operation of many NASA programs including the Webb telescope.

As Webb’s lead structures engineer, Irish led a group of 12 engineers that performed meticulous analysis and testing which helped confirm that the observatory’s mechanical design was fit to survive the rigors of spaceflight and on-orbit operations. While Irish’s primary focus was on preparing the telescope for a long life of service in space, she was also intimately involved in safely transporting the telescope to various locations around the United States for testing and assembly, and ultimately to its final destination where it launched from Europe’s Spaceport located near Kourou, French Guiana. Her steadfast dedication and expansive mechanical systems knowledge were key factors in the success of the notedly complex Webb mission. In addition to performing her duties on Webb, she served, and still actively serves, as the group lead for NASA Goddard’s mechanical systems analysis and simulation branch.

“I am honored to be this year’s recipient of SWE’s Resnik Challenger Medal Award for my role in Webb,” said Irish. “For 16 years of my engineering career at NASA, I worked on designing, building, testing, and delivering the most amazing telescope that NASA has ever launched into space. It was a joy to lead Webb’s structures team of such dedicated and talented engineers. Each day we tackled challenging design and test problems together, which resulted in a telescope that is successfully operating a million miles away! I smile every time a new image or discovery is shared with the world. It was wonderful to have been a part of the Webb team!”

About the Resnik Challenger Medal Award

The Resnik Challenger Medal was established in 1986 to honor SWE’s Dr. Judith A. Resnik, NASA mission specialist on the Challenger space shuttle flight lost Jan. 28, 1986. It is awarded for visionary contributions to space programs to an individual who identifies as a woman with at least ten years of experience. This award acknowledges a specific engineering breakthrough or achievement that has expanded the horizons of human activities in space.

SWE strives to advance and honor the contributions of women at all stages of their careers and recognize the successes of SWE members and individuals who enhance the engineering profession through contributions to the industry, education, and the community.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb is solving mysteries in our solar system, looking beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probing the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

For more information about NASA’s Webb telescope visit:

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