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.