Blogs  |  9.30.2021

Alumni Profile: Sarah Knights

Challenger Center

On July 20, 52 years after the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon, Blue Origin successfully completed their first human flight to space. On board Blue Origin’s reusable launch vehicle, New Shepard, was an eclectic mix of astronauts – Amazon and Blue Origin founder, Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark, aviation pioneer Wally Funk, and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen. Not one of the passengers had ever visited space. Before, during, and after the ride above the Karman line, about 62 miles above the Earth’s surface, there was one voice communicating with the astronauts: Sarah Knights.

Sarah is one of two CrewMember 7s assigned to each flight. Both are responsible for training astronauts leading up to the launch. On launch day itself, they split into two roles: one person serves as capsule communicator (CapCom) in Mission Control the morning of launch while the second helps load the astronauts into the rocket on the launch pad and welcomes them back to Earth when they land. On Blue Origin’s first human flight, it was Sarah as CapCom speaking with astronauts in space.

Knights shares a special connection with Challenger Center. Prior to her career at Blue Origin, she was a Challenger Center Flight Director at the John Fluke Jr. Challenger Learning Center at The Museum of Flight in Seattle. She says her time at the Center and Blue Origin have more in common than one might think.

“While I was delivering missions at the Challenger Learning Center, I was communicating with and instructing dozens of young students,” said Knights. “That experience of corralling and focusing that energy and raw emotion on a singular mission came in handy on launch day. It was really important for me to be calm and clear to ensure our crew had a successful trip.”

Knights spent nearly nine years at the Museum of Flight in various education roles. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics from the University of Hawaii before working at several observatories and then the Museum of Flight. While at the museum, she realized her passion for working with kids and teachers by delivering hundreds of Challenger Center space missions to Washington students.

“My job at Blue Origin helped me to appreciate how robust the programs are at Challenger Learning Centers,” she said. “It is truly amazing that students get to experience the preparation and process of a space launch. The challenges they work through in the simulators are closely mirrored to real-world situations.”

Challenger Center works closely with Blue Origin and its foundation, Club for the Future. The organizations partnered to develop Destination Moon, a Virtual Mission in which students launch New Shepard and guide Blue Origin’s lunar lander Blue Moon to the lunar surface. The program features fellow Challenger Learning Center alum and Blue Origin Director of Advanced Concepts & Strategy Adam Wuerl. This summer, Challenger Center was selected to receive a $1 million grant from Club for the Future. The grant, one of the largest in Challenger Center’s 35-year history, will boost the organization’s current work and amplify efforts to inspire even more students with engaging STEM programs.

As a Challenger Learning Center alum, Knights exemplifies the spirit of Challenger Center – a dedicated educator and communicator, utilizing her skills and passion for STEM to explore the universe and make the world a better place. We look forward to following her continued success.

Relive the excitement and watch Knights in action during Blue Origin’s First Human Flight here.