Shooting for the Stars: SMWS Alum and SpaceX Engineer Sarah Gillis

Sarah (Levine) Gillis, Lead Space Operations Engineer at SpaceX and crew trainer for the Inspiration4 mission, graduated from Shining Mountain Waldorf High School in 2012. Less than a decade later, in September, 2021, at the age of 27, Sarah is playing a lead role in the historical SpaceX Inspiration4 all-civilian human space flight mission; their “Dragon” rocket launched on September 15 with the goal of breaking barriers in space travel while raising funds and awareness for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

Sarah leads the astronaut training program at SpaceX, and was the primary trainer for the Inspiration4 crew as well as the voice of mission control during launch; she is featured in COUNTDOWN: Inspiration4 Mission to Space, a five-part Netflix series directed by Emmy Award winner Jason Hehir. The first four episodes are out, and the grand finale fifth episode comes out September 30, 2021.

“I had a mentor in high school,” Sarah recounts in Episode 3, “who set me on the course to study aerospace engineering. He was a former astronaut. He encouraged me to apply for engineering. I had never considered it before that.”

This mentor was Joe Tanner, a CU professor of aerospace engineering who agreed to help Sarah with her senior project presentation, “Space Travel: Staying Alive.” For this project, which all SMWS 12th graders complete going into their senior year, Sarah researched historical NASA files, interviewed astronauts and flight surgeons, and completed (and aced) a college level physics course. 

In her presentation in October 2011, Sarah said that doing this project, “I realized how much I am interested in becoming part of the space flight industry,” before adding, “perhaps, someday.”

Well, that someday has arrived. Thank you, Sarah, for being a stellar example of what our students can achieve when they discover their passion and stick with it!  


To learn more about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Inspiration4 mission, go to https://www.stjude.org/get-involved/other-ways/inspiration4.html

Written by Joshua Berman, SMWS Social Media Director

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