Working at NASA: An experience that creates your future

By Vanessa Rincon
National STEM Day 2019 Edition

Meet Pablo Antonio Ramirez Santiago who graduated with a double major degree in Public Relations & Advertising and Marketing Management from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus.

My experience at NASA has truly been unique, shaping me into who I am and teaching me a variety of different things on a daily basis. Right now, I don’t really have a single project, as I’m helping with many of them. I currently work as a Spanish journalism, multimedia, and social media intern, helping with the Spanish science communications at NASA. This doesn’t just have to do with the translations of the different missions, but also the Live Shots programs and other projects that involve the Hispanic community.

Pablo is a three-time intern at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

This was not always easy for me. One of the biggest challenges throughout my three internships here at Goddard was being able to communicate in English, coming from a place where my first language was Spanish. Coming to Goddard, everything around me was in English, and it was my first time working in a place in which everything was in a completely different language. However, I was able to create content in Spanish, even though my relationships, communications, and interactions with other coworkers are completely based upon my knowledge of the English language. This was truly a goal for me, and it started out as a challenge, but I ended up working hard because of how I wanted to be able to communicate effectively in both languages.

Pablo and his mentor receive the Star Award in the Functional Services Division at GSFC for their project.

I began here by participating in the summer poster session, which is a project that is meant to expand NASA’s science communications in Spanish. This project was based upon research that my co-mentor, Maria-Jose, worked on in 2011, and throughout the summer of 2018, we worked on finding funding for this project. We were able to start a proposal that created a pilot project that helped centralize the NASA Spanish communications, and were able to focus on a business structure that was feasible enough to where we could find the money needed to fund it. At this point, my mentor and co-mentor worked closely with me, allowing for me to win the Star Award in the Functional Services Division here at Goddard, then allowing for the project to be approved in April of 2019. All of this eventually led up to me taking my fall internship, and I have continued to put effort into my projects to truly make things come true for me.

Pablo’s project entails expanding NASA’s science communications in Spanish.

One of the greatest things that I continue to learn from my mentor and co-mentor, as well as subject matter experts, is how communications are consistently evolving and being reinvented. These are people who are always open to help me and push for me to improve, and they show me that it is worth it to be perseverant on what I want to accomplish and obtain.

Visiting a NASA center for the first time when I was 11 years old, I felt that I would never be able to find a place here because of how my interests were not aligned neither with science nor with engineering. I quickly discovered in college that this was wrong, and that the company did match my professional interests, pushing for me to apply for my internship. Eventually, I was contacted about an opportunity in which the agency was seeking someone who spoke Spanish, and from that point onwards, I have worked to where I am currently in my third internship with NASA, hoping to someday work for NASA professionally. My advice to future interns is: Believe in yourself and try new experiences! Sometimes you are going to feel desperate because you don’t know where you fit. But these experiences help you discover what things you like the most and where you see yourself in the future.

Are you interested in STEM communication? Consider applying to a NASA internship! You can find Summer 2020 intern projects at intern.nasa.gov. The Summer 2020 application deadline is March 8, 2020. Start your intern journey today! #NASAinterns #NationalSTEMDay

From Drawing To Telling the Stories of Space

From a very young age, Tamsyn has enjoyed drawing the solar system.

I’ve always dreamed of becoming an astronaut. As a kid, I loved to make crayon drawings of the solar system. My pictures always had to be accurate: I never forgot the asteroid belt, Uranus’ tilted rings, and Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. I loved the thought of a huge, mysterious universe — to be honest, I still do.

But if I’m being really honest, the process of becoming a bona fide space cadet isn’t a journey that I was ever prepared for or even willing to take. I’m very nearsighted. I have a largely unacknowledged fear of heights. I don’t want to major in engineering, hard science, or math. I also can’t do a pull-up.

I still fantasize, though, about seeing spaceship Earth hanging alone against a backdrop of a darkness punctured delicately by stars. I wonder about what it would be like to let Martian dust slip through the fingers of my spacesuit glove. I think about leaving my footprints on the Moon.

Over a decade after I stopped using crayons, 16-year-old Tamsyn got a position working in the Zukin lab at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, NY. As part of a high school class, I’d complete a short-term experiment under the supervision of professional scientists and write a brief paper about it. Over the course of a summer, I removed mouse hippocampi and conducted Western blot analyses on those tiny slivers of brain tissue. What I found to be the best part of the entire experience, though, was writing about the cellular mechanisms behind neuronal death as a result of stroke. I wanted to advance the field (if ever so slightly), but more importantly, the public deserved to know the work being done to ultimately benefit humans.

My passion for science is only outdone by my urge to tell people about it. During my crayon solar system era, I used to proudly recite the names of the planets (going in order from closest to farthest from the Sun and defiantly including Pluto even past its demotion) to anyone who would listen. In the first weeks of my junior year of high school, I worked diligently on my neuroscience paper in the hopes that it’d resonate with my classmates. The next summer I worked again at a lab — the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine — but now my job was to write about science full-time for the lab’s website. I was thrilled to reach a much larger audience than my classmates. By my senior year of high school, I knew what I wanted to do.

Tamsyn Brann is a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Science, Technology, and Society

I’m a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Science, Technology, and Society. I know that STS as a course of study sounds pretty vague, but I’m using that to my advantage: I can craft my specific focus as a writer by choosing classes where I could practice communicating science in an educational setting. I can tell you about the scientific legacy of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection — if you genuinely want to hear about the potential Lamarckism of epigenetics and whether genes really are “selfish.” I could talk for hours about detecting biosignatures on exoplanets and what to do once we’ve found them. At school and outside, my encounters with science taught me intellectual fearlessness and a desire to question. When science is communicated, society can absorb the information and advance.

I look forward to focusing my future more specifically toward communicating the astronomy I’ve always loved, and at NASA Goddard, I can do exactly that. The opportunity to interview the very people behind cutting-edge space science is an enormous privilege. Writing about the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter brings me to the Moon (where I hope to see humankind walk in my lifetime, even if I can’t). I’ll visit Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids as I research the 2021 Lucy mission. I can soar past the boundaries of the solar system interviewing scientists specializing in exoplanets. Though being an astronaut may not be my calling, science storytelling is.

To learn more about NASA Internships, please visit intern.nasa.gov. Start your journey today! #NASAinterns

From Air and Space to L’SPACE – How I Came to NASA

woman in front of signs, flags
Daleen Torres arrives at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in June 2019. Photo Courtesy Daleen Torres

My name is Daleen M. Torres and I study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus. NASA has always been one of those places where I never thought I would work. I originally wanted to work in the biomedical industry, but when I visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, a tiny spark lit up in me. My best friend who was with me at the time could tell that I was all starry-eyed and amazed when I saw the spacecraft and airplanes. This was where my initial interest for aerospace came.

In my Freshman year, I quickly sought out opportunities in aerospace-related internships and projects. As a volunteer in the Aerodesign Team, a group dedicated to designing and manufacturing radio controlled airplanes; I was able to learn more about aerospace and the importance of teamwork. However, I still wanted to explore the space aspect of the aerospace industry. After participating in the Aerodesign competition in California, it was difficult to keep up with the emails sent to my university email. I had to catch up with my classes I had missed out on. When I saw that an employee from NASA was requesting resumes from students via email, I got excited. Unfortunately, it was already too late to send out my resume. The deadline had passed. Regardless of that, I still sent out the resume. I did not get the opportunity to go to NASA at that time.

In my Sophomore year, after a long day at my university, I saw this flyer that talked about this cool space program called Lucy Pipeline Accelerator and Competency Enabler (L’SPACE Academy). It’s a 12-week NASA online program where scientists and engineers teach undergrad students mission procedures that are later used to solve a mission-related design challenge. After being accepted in the program, I was assigned to a team which I led as the project manager. The program motivated me to reach out to NASA again by applying for a summer internship. About three days later, the same NASA employee I had sent my resume to in my freshman year called to set up an interview. It was 8:00 pm and I was sitting by the tv, watching Netflix. I almost dropped my phone when he said he was from NASA.

I am now a NASA Intern at the Goddard Space Flight Center. It has been a dream come true. One of my favorite aspects of Goddard hat I get to see on a daily basis is diversity and inclusion. Most of the people in the team that I work in are female scientists. It’s amazing to see how much the female presence in the scientific community has increased over the years. Some decades ago, this did not happen. Everywhere I go, I get to see people from different cultures. I have met people from France, Spain, Jamaica, Korea, Africa, and much more.

The project that I am working on is called Light Field Microscopy for Future Space Missions. It will serve to make geochronology (the science for age dating of rocks, minerals, stones, and fossils) experiments of different planets within the Solar System. This would permit geologists to improve current knowledge of the planets. As an engineering student, I will help develop the K-Ar (Potassium to Argon) Laser Experiment (KArLE). It measures the age of rocks by obtaining the amount of atoms of Potassium and Argon in the sample. In other words, KArLE uses K-Ar dating. Optimizing the measurements of the volume of pits in samples by researching different flight-proven methods would enable KArLE to be more precise.

So far, everyday at NASA has been unique. After passing through the security entrances, I get to an office, read emails and plan out my day. I set up meetings if necessary and jot down any activity or presentation at GSFC that catches my eye. Then, I head down to a lab where I get to work with this cool Lytro camera that uses light field technology to map out the depth values in a picture. I also get to work with two different microscopes. Occasionally, I participate in different activities available for interns and employees.

Liz Wilk: Getting the Picture at Goddard Space Flight Center

Ten years ago, I never imagined where I would be at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Graduating from high school in the far south suburbs of Chicago, I received my bachelor’s degree in history, taking film production classes along the way. After spending a summer at an archaeology field school deciding what to pursue for graduate school, I became aware and frustrated with the lack of educational, factual engaging media in regards to history. That led me to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Science & Natural History Filmmaking at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana.

The Science & Natural History Filmmaking program at Montana State University is the first program to offer a Master’s of Fine Arts in the area of science and natural history film. Students and alums work on various projects from blue chip films with BBC, programming for National Geographic, independent films about environmental issues and videos for the National Parks Service, NASA and more. The MFA was founded to teach scientists how to make films in a response to watered down science and pseudo-science programming that became prevalent.

While attending Montana State University, I worked on a multitude of projects from a feature film to smaller documentaries on the wildlife of the greater-Yellowstone ecosystem, geology and more. It was while working on a full-dome planetarium film about gravitational waves when I became interested in interning at NASA. While working on the shoot, I had the opportunity to visit Goddard to film 360 video for the film, Einstein’s Gravity Playlist, where I met and learned about the projects that video producers at NASA work on.

Working in videography at NASA has been a great experience with its own challenges that are rewarding when they are conquered. It is hard to compare to other internships, but doing videography is always interesting. One day I might be interviewing an astronaut, the next day I might be helping to broadcast interviews with scientists across the country, and later that day working on the latest edit of a video we might be working on. It’s always exciting to see what each day brings. One thing I would say to remember or point out with film as part of science communication, is how important it is. Most people tend to only think of science communication as strictly journalism, but there are so many more mediums to communicate through which is why I am drawn toward 360 video and virtual reality to explore how it can be used to communicate in a more immersive way.

While at NASA, I had the opportunity to help with live shots in Goddard’s broadcast studio, and recently finished a video piece for the Hubble Space Telescope to celebrate some of the women who are connected to spacecraft. While working on the film, I met many inspiring women who carry the same message of perseverance paying off.

With only a month left, I will be concentrating on 360 video content for Goddard.