Meet Tabitha Russell!

Hello, my name is Tabitha Russell. I am a rising senior at Salisbury University; I am majoring in Information Systems and minoring in Finance. This summer I had the pleasure of interning with Code 155 under the Cost Accounting Section.  I must say that I have enjoyed working with the Cost Team. They have enlightened me with several ideas and information regarding accounting principles and internal controls for the agency.  Along with learning the standard operating procedures of a Cost Commercial Representative (CCR) Administrator, I did a research project on fees paid to NASA Contractors.

This research project was a tough subject, but interesting at the same time. I investigated how the financial policy is implemented across the center. Each CCR Administrator had different issues regarding contractor fees, such as billing issues, timing issues, or explaining the calculations. The biggest part of my project was my proposed recommendations for the issues that the CCR Administrators were having.  I proposed to update the regulations and the NASA Procedural Requirements so that Cost Vouchers and Fee Vouchers are combined on one invoice. NASA has to pay for every Invoice/Voucher that is processed, and if we update these items, we will potentially save NASA millions of dollars. 

Credit:  Tabitha Russell.  Tabitha presents her research at the Intern Poster Session.

As I went around the office introducing my research to my colleagues, some suggested that I submit my proposal to the Obama SAVE Award. President Obama believes the best ideas usually come from the front lines. That’s why in 2009 he launched the SAVE Award (Securing Americans Value and Efficiency), seeking ideas from federal employees to make government more effective and efficient, to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. I did enter the Obama SAVE Award a day before the deadline, but I did not get a chance to get agency votes. However, it was still a great experience.

I would like to thank my mentor Rodney Green and the Cost Team of Code 155 for a great summer! I really enjoyed myself and learned a lot.

Meet Noah Katz!

If I were to go back in time and have a conversation with myself in which I explained that I was working for NASA this summer, I wouldn’t believe me.


Over the past two months I’ve edited and re-imagined posters, brochures, fact sheets, and presentations; designed samples of contact cards; put together a storyboard for an informational video; and built the first draft of a screen-saver. These things seem natural to me now after a handful of weeks at work for NASA, but they were not always. Talking about what kind of data is being relayed between satellites and the International Space Station would have been beyond strange; but now that information sits jotted on a post-it note on my desk. 


Since I could first hold a pencil in my hand, I drew spaceships. Fleets of them numbering in the tens of thousands filled notebooks and scraps of paper whenever I had a spare moment. At NASA I now draw with design software instead of pencils, and the spacecraft depicted are real.  

Credit:  Noah Katz.  Noah stands under the Impact Dynamics Testing Gantry at the NASA Langley Research Center.


So where do I work? In long form, I would say I work at the Goddard Space Flight Center in the Exploration and Space Communications Projects Division. The projects that I have helped out on are related to Education and Public Outreach. Right now most of the work I’ve done focuses on the 11th Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) (launching December 2012) and a brand new Optical Communication payload (LCRD) to be hosted onboard a commercial satellite in the coming years.


In order for the education and public outreach aspects of the job to be successful, we need to create images and content across various media that are both scientifically accurate and visually appealing. To achieve this, the scientists and project managers who help create and manage the spacecraft are in constant contact. This means teamwork and collaboration are vital. During June and July, science educators from across the state of Pennsylvania came to Goddard to learn more about space. I was responsible for editing and adding material to a presentation that was delivered by engineers and team leaders from the division. At a crucial juncture of planning this presentation, we all sat down to discuss the accuracy of the graphics. The changes made here helped ensure that the information we provided to other educators was sound. 


Beyond this, I have the unique privilege of interacting with engineers and scientists across a range of disciplines both inside and outside of the office, including the hundreds of summer interns who share my passion for space. A particular technical highlight of my time at Goddard was the opportunity to view the massive clean rooms and testing facilities where satellites go to earn their stripes before leaving Earth. Being so close to these pinnacles of our civilization’s technological progress was, for a future-enthusiast like me, something of a surreal experience. 


Back home at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I study how advanced technology changes human consciousness and culture. I was able to see this firsthand at NASA. Going forward, my experiences here will carry weight in the real world and help inform the rest of my studies when I return to school. And when I eventually make my move into a full-time career, I will hold NASA proudly on my résumé and in my memory. 

Meet Ricardo Topham!

I’m a Spanish telecommunications engineer, but due to some unexpected turns, I am working with Earth Observation data. For my master’s degree, I wanted to study somewhere other than my home of the Canary Islands, Spain. The interesting option arose of studying the H.264/MPEG4 video compression in New Zealand. However, because of the economic crisis, my “kiwi” plan shattered into pieces and I had to find an alternative. The promised scholarship wasn’t there anymore and my expected stipend disappeared, so I needed to stay at home to complete my thesis. A new variety of choices opened up, and I picked Earth Observation at the International Space University.


The International Space University’s M.Sc includes a 12-week internship. I was familiar with NASA’s MODIS Earth Observation instrument, so when my academic advisor asked me about preferences for my internship, my choice was crystal clear – NASA Goddard, the world’s spearhead of Earth Observation. Eight months later, in mid-May, my adventure started.



Credit:  R. Topham


I work in building 33, in the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory (Code 618). I’m probably the only engineer in a corridor flooded with scientists, which sometimes makes me feel like the odd one out. At first, I felt completely out of my element when they spoke about trees, canopy closure, leave types, topography, and allometry. It didn’t matter though, because I was willing to learn!


The project proposed by my mentor, Ross F. Nelson, had the following description:


The intern would be responsible for using his programming and image processing skills to analyze simulated ICESat-2 LiDAR data in order to identify and delineate the ground, mid-forest-canopy, and top-of-forest canopy traces in the photon ranging data.


This was a completely new topic for me, but seemed quite interesting and challenging. That was all the information I had for choosing my project, which was more than enough for me. I had no doubts; I wanted to go to NASA Goddard.


A couple of months later, when I first met Ross, he presented me with an image like the one shown below:


Credit:  NASA


When an untrained person first sees that kind of image, it’s impossible for them to imagine what it might represent. In fact, the dark blue line is meant to show photon ground hits, while the fainter blue blurry dots on top of it are supposed to be trees. After some technical explanation, it starts to make sense.


Below is the same area imaged by an optical satellite.


Credit:  Google Maps


These two images seem not to any relation, but they are the same area viewed in completely different ways, LiDAR vs. optical.


Almost 12 weeks later and after several issues – data losses, a week without electricity (thanks Maryland derecho!), problems with the bike that I rode to NASA, and days with internet problems at home – I finally managed to come up with something like what’s shown in the image below.


Credit:  R. Topham / NASA


It obviously isn’t doing the job perfectly, but Ross told me a couple of times, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good”.


The experience at NASA has been awesome. Ross has been really supportive and motivating during the whole internship. I surely couldn’t have had a better mentor. Doug, another scientist in the same department who had a group of five interns, always kept me up-to-date about their visits and tours, even though I wasn’t officially part of their group. And Jackie and Jérémy were there whenever needed. It definitely has been a once in a lifetime experience! I’ll surely keep those friendships forever.


All in all, it’s been a pleasure to have the chance to work at NASA Goddard, and it’s something I’ll carry along with me throughout the rest of my life.

Meet Laura Dunlap!

Hi everybody! My name is Laura Dunlap, and I am a senior physics major at the University of Maryland, College Park. I began interning at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the summer of 2011. Since I go to school in the area, I was lucky enough to be able to continue my internship part time throughout the school year and full time again this summer.

Credit:  Laura Dunlap


I work in the Solar Physics Laboratory (Code 671) under the guidance of Adrian Daw and Douglas Rabin. We are working to develop a solar imaging system using a new technology called a photon sieve. A photon sieve is a type of diffractive optic that uses millions of tiny holes to focus light. I am involved in many aspects of the project including design, testing, and data analysis. I have learned so much about instrumentation and what it takes to build a project from start to finish. The best part of my job is when I get to go outside and actually use the system I helped build. Last summer, another intern and I were even able to take the very first pictures of the Sun with a photon sieve! These successful tests help promote the production and use of more photon sieve imaging systems. It is exciting to have such a major role in developing cutting-edge technology!


Credit:  Laura Dunlap.  The photon sieve imaging system piggybacked on a telescope during Solar observations.


There are so many great things about interning at Goddard, but one thing I really appreciate is the amount of responsibility I am given as just an undergraduate student. I was surprised the first time my mentor asked me to approve a list of parts to buy or decide what design to use. As an intern, I was not expecting to have so much influence over my project. This responsibility has helped me gain confidence in my work and take ownership of what I do. With this confidence and experience, I feel fully prepared to enter the workforce once I graduate.


The Goddard experience isn’t all about work, either. This internship has allowed me to meet great friends that I will have the rest of my life. It is awesome to have so many people with common interests in one place. I have enjoyed every minute of my experience and I have amazing memories that will last me a lifetime. I would encourage anyone and everyone who has the opportunity to intern at Goddard.

Meet Daniel Liss!

By Katrina Jackson, NASA GSFC

Daniel Liss has yet to start college, but already he’s getting some hands-on research experience at NASA.  This summer, Daniel is designing computer simulations of variability in the Crab Nebula with his mentor, Dr. Elizabeth Hays.  “For many years, scientists thought that [the Crab Nebula] was a constant source of gamma rays in the sky,” explains Daniel, “and over the past few years we’ve actually learned that it’s changing very rapidly.” Daniel attempts to model these changes in his simulations.

Credit:  NASA/Daniel Liss.  Daniel’s simulation shows selected sources in the gamma ray sky.  Circled are the Crab Nebula, IC 443, and Geminga.

This is not Daniel’s first Goddard internship.  After graduating from high school in February, Daniel worked with Dr. David Leisawitz in the Interferometry Laboratory.  Daniel learned about Dr. Leisawitz when he was doing research for a holography science project he presented at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2011.  (“Holography” is just what it sounds like – the study of holograms!)  After working with interferometers, Dr. Leisawitz recommended Daniel for his current internship position.

Credit:  I-SWEEEP.  Daniel presents research at an international science competition.

“My favorite part [about working at Goddard] is definitely that scientists here, if they’re working on a project, they think it’s the most pressing problem facing humanity,” says Daniel. “That type of passion is really contagious.”  Daniel enjoys talking with a variety of people at Goddard and learning about topics outside of his project.  “I came in to do these computer simulations, and yet I’m learning about the Dawn [mission to study asteroids], or about what they’re doing in the NICER X-ray laboratory.”  (NICER is the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer, a proposed NASA mission.)  “You get a good idea of how NASA is such a huge organization with so many different projects and yet how everything comes together.”

What’s next for this bright, young student?  Daniel will attend Columbia University in the fall, where he plans to study computer science.  He’s been programming since the age of eight, and is excited to be able to study something he’s always done for fun.  Columbia is also a block away from the Goddard Institute in New York, so perhaps Daniel will continue his relationship with NASA.  We sure hope so, because students like Daniel will be instrumental to our future!