Lunar Soil: The Key to Breathing in Space- Shayla Wilhelm

Shayla Wilhelm standing in front of the Launch Crawler
Shayla Wilhelm standing in front of the Crawler Transporter.

If you can dream it, you can do it. Shayla Wilhelm saw the frothy sea of the Milky Way as she grew up in a small town in New York. Using a telescope, Wilhelm saw stars and planets shining everywhere across the sky. After realizing how much she loved what she saw in the sky, she ended up seeing a future in aerospace engineering. 

Oxygen in Space 

If astronauts on the moon can harness the oxygen under their feet, sustaining a human presence on the moon may not be so difficult after all,” Wilhelm said. Currently, Wilhelm is a junior at the Florida Institute of Technology where she is majoring in Aerospace Engineering. As a former NASA intern at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, she worked on the Molten Regolith Electrolysis (MRE) Project. 

The purpose of the MRE Project is to create oxygen on the Moon and to use it in astronaut tanks. By taking the soil on the Moon, Wilhelm would then melt it and run an electric current through it. This would split apart the metal oxides into molten metal and oxygen. After this process, the metal would then sink, allowing the oxygen to be separated, harvested, and eventually purified and distributed. 

This process is potentially an important step in setting up long-term research centers on the moon and beyond. 

Internship Takeaway 

As an intern, Wilhelm had a very hard time to describe an “average” day while at NASA. While she spent every single day differently, she is grateful that her days as an intern was always a unique experience. From staying in the lab and analyzing data, to working in the machine shop and getting her hands dirty, Wilhelm would always be excited and feel lucky enough to take on these new and innovative tasks every single day. Wilhelm also got the opportunity to expand upon her software skills, improve her technical writing, and more. 

Have you ever dreamed of working with NASA? Check out our website for more opportunities and information. Also, feel free to read more exciting stories such as Andrew Hoang, another former NASA intern who worked on parachute landings! 

Persistence is Key – Bianca Ortega

A former NASA intern at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, inside the NASA Center for Climate Simulation.
A former NASA intern at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, inside the NASA Center for Climate Simulation.

Commitment is the foundation of great accomplishments. With dreams to be a pilot, Bianca Ortega flew remote-controlled airplanes in the sky when she was younger. When high school came around, her dreams started to expand, and she instead started to program and send her work into space. It was her first physics class in high school that guided her to find a new purpose for a newer mindset. Ortega wanted her work to mean something and so her skills were put to the test.

Data Visualization and Machine Learning Involvement

“It is one thing to be great at something, but it is an entirely different thing to use that skill not for your own, but for the pursuit of knowledge.” Ortega said. Currently, Ortega is a Senior at Kean University in New Jersey. She is double majoring in Computational Science and Mathematics, and minoring in Applied Physics. Ortega is also a former NASA intern at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, where she worked on a project titled “Applications of Data Visualization and Machine Learning to HPC Logs.” Her project took place at NASA’s Center for Climate Simulation (NCCS). The NCCS uses supercomputers, the main one being called “Discover,” which examined and used machine learning and different data visualization techniques through recorded performance .

Ortega’s experiment was made possible with the use of The ELK (Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana) Stack. The NCCS and NASA rely heavily on Discover to tackle some of their most challenging computational projects for the Science Mission Directorate to date. The purpose of her project was to find ways to correct user error behavior and detect —or ideally, predict system failures before they can happen. With that goal, this project would allow NASA scientists the best experience while using NASA’s NCCS Supercomputers.

Hard Work Pays Off

Ortega says that this internship is “a testament that hard work does pay off.” She hopes that everyone knows that their story is different from anyone else. Ortega came from a long line of Puerto Rican women, and she never really saw a lot of Women in STEM growing up, so she felt alone. “For any and all the young women out there, just know that you are not and will never be alone,” Ortega said.

If you are looking to write your own story, check out our website for opportunities regarding internships and more! You can also read other cool and empowering stories such as Rama Diop, a former intern that contributed to laser welding in

Grace Pham/ NASA Johnson Space Center