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.