Jenna Kay Foertsch: Meeting the Challenge at NASA’s Johnson Space Center

It was a few days before the Intern Photo Challenge submission was due. The interns at NASA’s Johnson Space Center slowly shuffled into our weekly meeting, and you could hear the usual bouts of laughter muffled from the outside. It wasn’t long before someone brought up the Intern Photo Challenge. As a fiercely competitive and creative group, we knew we had to create something unique to clutch Johnson Space Center’s first win. We were in a special position being at our location since many of the suggested photos surrounded Mission Control or other iconic Johnson locations. This was to our advantage, but we thought it would be too simple to settle for the obvious. Additionally, gaining access to Mission Control overnight would be just as grandiose a challenge. A small group of us decided that it would be best to pick a photo that wasn’t originally suggested. Logan Bennett spearheaded the photo search with thoughts that we needed something more eye-catching. After searching through hundreds of photos on NASA commons he had found the one. Logan and Barry Berridge held a brainstorm session on how to tackle this multifaceted photo.

Many questions that needed to be answered included things like, “How do we create the smoke?”, “Where are we going to get the outfits?”, and “How are we going to do this with two days left?” It was clear early on that we were going to need to create a plan. This photo was far too complex to “wing it.” Logan made a dozen phone calls to local party and Halloween stores searching for something to create the orange smoke. He eventually concluded that we were going to need to purchase an actual smoke signal. Alex Kafer handmade the hats, the orange flight suits were purchased at Space Center Houston, and the remaining materials were collected at a local Walmart. We gathered our team and created our plan.

Our team consisted of (me) Jenna Kay Foertsch pictured on the left, Logan Bennett pictured in the middle, Dallas Capozza pictured on the right, Alex Kafer not pictured because he was under water holding us up, Meredith Murray was the genius behind the camera, and Barry Berridge was support.

NASA JSC Interns Jenna Kay Foertsch, Logan Bennett, and Dallas Capozza get comfortable in the water in preparation for taking their challenge photo.

It was time to take the photo. Saying that this “photoshoot” was madness is an understatement. We picked the nearby lake, Clear Lake, as our photo spot. Only, we went to the wrong lake. We somehow ended up at the lake across from Clear Lake infamously known as Mud Lake, or, alligator haven. Of course, we didn’t know we were in Mud Lake until various Johnson employees later saw the picture and all did a double take on our location choice. Regardless, we plunged into the cold water. In the photo, the three astronauts have their legs tangled up. As we were determined to be as accurate as possible, we flailed in the water for quite some time trying to get our legs up. Alex had to eventually dive in and push us up for us to appear as if we were floating.

What followed included a flurry of comedic events. We dealt with a wet flare, hats flying away, and interns floating in opposite directions. We finally pulled it together and lit the flare. I wish I could say that our expressions of discomfort were an imitation of the photo and not a result of us flopping around. We eventually crawled out of the water and proceeded to walk around in our drenched flight suits. Passersby gave us various funny looks. The looks could have been from the wet flight suits, or they could have been that a group of kids just crawled out of Mud Lake, either way there was nothing to see here, just a few interns.

Alex Kafer, left, provided (literal) support from underwater during the photo shoot.

After Alex, Meredith, and Logan enhanced the photo, the true challenge began. Our true creativity came with our efforts to advertise our photo. Many of our interns shared the photo with their friends, families, and colleges. Alex, Logan, and Dallas spent quite some time reaching out to individual people to get attention to the photo. I contacted Space Center Houston, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, and Citizens for Space Exploration for assistance. Being from the Space City was an advantage that we knew we needed to take advantage of. We also contacted groups such as Space Hipsters on Facebook and other individuals on Twitter and Instagram. I had also previously participated in a NASA Social and posted it in the alumni group. The space community never fails to surprise me with their kindness and support.

NASA JSC Interns who participated in the fall challenge pose at the fall exit ceremony with the first place plaque they received.

We were elated when we found out we had clutched the victory. It was the weekend of our intern beach trip and we ran up and down the shoreline in celebration. In a true NASA fashion, our creativity, hard work, and perseverance paid off.

About the Author
Jenna Kay Foertsch, a Business and Marketing Education major from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, is a NASA Intern at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. In her internship she helps to manage and improve a co-working space at JSC, utilizing WordPress capabilities, creating data dashboards, and producing strategic content for the Center Operations Directorate.

Xavier Morgan-Lange: The Journey to NASA’s Johnson Space Center

The phone call students receive when offered an internship is life-changing, but it’s only a brief moment in their journey to becoming a NASA intern. Xavier worked tirelessly for years with his goal in mind, and receiving his internship offer made everything worth it.

The day that I received the call from the Johnson Space Center will forever remain one of the defining moments of my life. The disbelief, excitement, anxiousness, nervousness, joy, and sense of accomplishment all compiled at once. It was a moment that I did not need to look back in hindsight to realize just how momentous it truly was. Finally, the sleepless nights, words of encouragement, and struggles endured, are paying off. I knew what I was capable of, and now nothing could stand in the way of me achieving my dreams.

My journey began entering middle school. I quickly found myself as a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol, and at the age of eleven I flew my first plane. The rest of my time consisted of engaging in emergency service exercises, learning fundamental aerospace concepts, and learning how to fly. By the end of the eighth grade I had earned the rank of Cadet Second Lieutenant.

Starting high school, certain that I wanted to have a future in aerospace, I had my sights set on the Air Force Academy. Consequently, I attended Rancho High School, enrolling in both the Private Pilot and Aerospace Engineering programs. Rancho exposed me to a plethora of new experiences ranging from becoming a varsity wrestler to learning the Russian language. I also met my wonderful teacher and mentor, Mrs. Sara J. Quintana, who opened my eyes to the possibilities and beauty of engineering. Upon graduation from Rancho, I earned my Private Pilot License, worked as an aircraft mechanic, earned twenty-seven credit hours of college credit, and was accepted into the United States Air Force Preparatory Academy. However, I found that my interest in a career with the Air Force waned. I declined my admission offer and attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).

My time at UNLV has been nothing short of extravagant. During my first year I joined the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). As a member of AIAA, I joined a team tasked with designing and building a solar-powered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to be flown approximately 340 miles away. This beckoned me for I loved all things aviation and maintain a deep love for the environment. Within NSBE, I began giving back to my community through educational outreach events devoted to encouraging secondary school students to pursue higher education. Then, things ceased to prosper.

While staffing an outreach event I encountered a former high school instructor who told me I would never make it to NASA. I was in a state of disbelief to hear this, however it only motivated me. With fervor, I made it a mission to prove him wrong. Shortly thereafter, I was elected president of my university’s NSBE chapter. While this restored a fair amount of my confidence, I soon found myself in a deeper rut after suffering the loss of a close friend and the former NSBE president before me. Stricken by grief and confusion, I was overwhelmed in an unprecedented manner. Months passed and as the community began to heal, I found a new motivation. One that was no longer just about myself, but rather my community at large.

Pressed with school, work, and emails, I finally got a call during my lab. I rushed out to answer it, and once I heard who it was from, the world fell silent. “This is it,” I thought to myself. “It’s finally happening.” A journey truly out of this world had just begun.

Kelly DeRees at Johnson Space Center: Shuttle Inspiration to STEM Dedication

Kelly DeRees knew she wanted a STEM career from the moment she laid eyes on Space Shuttle Endeavor, so she pursued several NASA experiences — and created STEM opportunities of her own — to make it happen.

When you’re standing nose-to-nose with a space shuttle, it’s hard to not want to be part of the team that made it fly.

This is how I felt as a freshman in high school, when I walked beneath Space Shuttle Endeavour at Kennedy Space Center before she flew to California to be in a museum. Now I’m a junior in college, and I’m an intern at Johnson Space Center in Houston. It’s been a long journey to get here, and I’ve been fortunate to have many NASA experiences along the way, all of which have taught me something that helped me get to JSC.

In high school, I joined several NASA education programs, including engineering design challenges, job shadows, and a student community that received mentorship from NASA employees. Many of the programs I was part of have since been phased out or replaced, but the lessons I learned from them have stuck with me. If you’re a student interested in being part of the space program, I recommend checking out current NASA student opportunities. If you’re in high school, the Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge program, or OPSPARC, is a great opportunity to exercise your engineering and communication skills while interacting with NASA scientists and engineers. If you’re in college, the Micro-g NExT program will allow you to design and build a tool for astronauts to use during a spacewalk, with the opportunity to test your device in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at JSC.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from NASA is persistence in the face of challenges. I’ve had plenty of chances to stumble on my way to where I am now. Through my NASA experiences, I learned that there is an opportunity within every obstacle. Sometimes I’ve tripped and fallen due to factors beyond my control, and sometimes the obstacles were my own fault. Regardless, learning to find an opportunity within every one of these challenges has built my confidence and problem solving skills. When one of the education programs I was part of in high school was discontinued, I channeled my disappointment into creating opportunities where none existed before. I mentored a middle school girls’ STEM club, scheduled my own job shadows with scientists from NASA and the Smithsonian Institution, and started a club for space advocacy in my hometown. It was hard, but it was a valuable lesson to learn and I now apply the same philosophy at JSC and in my personal life. When something doesn’t go my way, I don’t see it as a barrier to success – it’s an opportunity for me to learn or try something new.

In addition to the technical skills I’ve learned with NASA, I also learned the importance of networking. I started building my NASA network in high school, and expanded my network during my first internship at NASA Goddard. My networking at Goddard led directly to an internship in Huntsville, AL with a private company in summer 2017. I also had the opportunity to meet with a U.S. Senator and Goddard leadership because of the network that I built. Learning how to use my connections has played a big a role in getting me to JSC.

My journey to become a NASA engineer, and ultimately an astronaut, is only beginning, but I am grateful for the NASA experiences I have had so far. I’m not sure what my life would have looked like without them, but I’m fairly confident I wouldn’t be at JSC right now had I not had those experiences. For anyone who stands where I stood six years ago, dreaming of space but not knowing how to get there, keep learning, keep trying, and keep pushing forward. Many doors won’t open on the first try, but the victories are well worth the effort.