From the Farm to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Do you have any fun or special NASA or STEM memories that have contributed to your journey here?
The University of Michigan wrote a short-story article titled “The farm-raised engineer” that described my journey from a small-town family farm to the PhD program at the University of Michigan. Joseph Xu, Senior Multimedia Producer, interviewed me in the lab, at my apartment, at the research greenhouse, and traveled with me to my family farm in order to capture my family history as farmers and how my education has led me to perform research that has come full-circle with trying to provide innovative solutions to modern agriculture. I was also a 2018 National Geographic Chasing Genius Finalist (1 of 15 in nearly 3,000). http://archive.natgeochasinggenius.com/video/1497. Unfortunately, I did not win the competition. While I did not win the competition from the National Geographic Chasing Genius, I learned to not be deterred or give up after a loss. Bringing the ideas with me as I have the opportunity and resources available here at Kennedy Space Center to further pursue the project.

Kenneth sits on top of the 30,000 bushel grain bin on Engeling Farms property [Photo by J. Xu]
What challenges or hardships do you feel you have had to overcome to reach this point?
Coming from a small and rural community I did not have the high school educational opportunities provided to most of my peers at the University of Michigan. My freshman year was spent trying to study, competing with my peers and adjusting to being “far” (6 ½ hour drive) from home. In order to help pay for my schooling, at the start of my sophomore year I began working on the weekends as a handyman around the city of Ann Arbor to help offset rent costs, groceries, and other school supplies.

Kenneth working at the botanical gardens [Photo by J. Xu]
The plant research project mentioned in the National Geographic video was actually a side project of mine that I started in my second year of graduate studies. It was what I had intended on developing for my thesis but it never did received the funding. Therefore my thesis work was on a different project and my spare time was spent on pursuing this research. I would work during the day on my thesis research and then in the evenings, a colleague who was also interested in the project would work with me as we further developed the project. This led to a lot of evenings during the week and weekends spent doing research together with some time-stamped photographs at midnight. Since there was no available funding, my father had given me soybeans from the farm (Engeling Farms) and I had spent my own money on supplies for germination and growth tests with my advisor allowing me to use the non-consumable lab equipment.

Are there any educators who inspired you throughout school or contributed to your pursuit of a NASA internship?
My advisor, Professor John Foster, had worked at NASA – Glenn Research Center before becoming a Professor at the University of Michigan. His excitement with research and teaching and love of the advancement of knowledge throughout NASA had inspired me to look into the opportunities available to me and to see if I would be able to contribute to any of the on-going work.

Kenneth stands in front of the historic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

I am very thankful to have received the opportunity to work with my current mentor, Annie Meier, PhD, and the OSCAR Team in the Applied Chemistry Lab here at Kennedy Space Center.  Dr. Meter and her team focuses on a waste gasification process involving a rig that has been named Orbital Syngas/Commodity Augmentation Reactor or OSCAR for short.  My current role in the group is to demonstrate the use of an alternative technology for the same purpose and therefore I am working with a low-temperature plasma torch for waste gasification.  This correlates directly with my graduate degree focus within the field of plasma physics.  I am also collaborating with GIoia Massa, PhD, of the VEGGIE group for the sterilization of seeds via various plasma technologies.

I was excited for the opportunity and experience to work at NASA for the plasma gasification group as well as a possible collaboration to continue working on the seed project for potential applications and use for the International Space Station. One of the most interesting things about my internship is that I have the ability to work at a historic facility as well as seeing its transition into a multi-user spaceport by experiencing launches first-hand. Learning how to use new equipment and analyze the data will be invaluable in years to come for my career. Also, learning the requirements for flight technologies as well as the advanced chemistry and concepts applied has been fascinating.

Kenneth turns on the power supply for the plasma torch in the plasma gasification experiment

How do you feel this internship has helped you develop more professional or personal confidence?
While interning here, I am writing my PhD thesis so my goal is to graduate. Then I wish to pursue plasma applications for environmental remediation and applications in agriculture. My mentor’s group as well as another group I am working with, has provided me with the one of the best foundations for learning basic and advanced concepts and knowledge in order to further pursue advanced applications for plasma technologies.

The internship has helped in a professional way by allowing me to interact with experts in fields different than mine. It has also helped me be able to clearly explain the experiences I have gained in my graduate studies and how I may be able to assist in their projects. My name is Kenneth Engeling and this is my story.

Kenneth walks down the field entrance at his family’s farm in Central Illinois [Photo by J. Xu]
About the Author
Kenneth Engeling is finishing up his 4th year of his PhD studies in nuclear engineering and radiological sciences with a focus in low temperature plasmas. He comes from a small town farming community in which the farm has been in his family for 4 generations spanning nearly 140 years.  Kenneth has traveled from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, which is home to the Wolverines and fantastic food options, and has succeeded in skipping the Michigan winter. Kenneth will be continuing his internship until the end of Summer 2019 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

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

Hurricane Maria nor adversity keeps Puerto Rico student from interning at NASA’s Glenn Research Center and Stennis Space Center

Jorge proudly stands by the NASA meatball on his second internship day at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

My name is Jorge Y. Martínez Santiago, I’m from Caguas, Puerto Rico. I study electrical engineering (EE) at the Universidad Del Turabo in Puerto Rico. I decided to study electrical engineering because I wanted to help in the improvement of new systems to help humanity in the way we communicate, electrical systems in medical equipment, security, perhaps in renewable energies or in the development of new technologies, such as transportation, Construction and robotics. For me, a career in electrical engineering can offer you all that. After my first year of study in EE, my father’s cousin, Felix Soto, told me about an internship opportunity at NASA. At first I was excited, but then I thought that because I was from Puerto Rico I would have more problems to qualify because being considered a minority I would not have the same opportunities. Also, I did not have the best GPA, I assumed that only 4.0 GPA students would be considered for opportunities. This perception made me lose confidence in being selected for an interview.

Jorge tours NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

After the first year of having my profile in the application system, I received updates that I was being considered for an interview, but I was never interviewed. Soon after, I forgot about the selection process because I thought that NASA would never select me. However, my parents and my father’s cousin continued to encourage me to apply again in my third year of college. This time, with a better curriculum and some EE experience, I felt more confident. I applied for spring internship opportunities in 2017, but then Hurricane Maria came.

After Hurricane Maria, we lost the roof at the back of the house, electricity and water. Our phones did not work well – there was no signal on the whole island. Nowadays, we are dependent on technology regularly for almost everything so you can only imagine how difficult our days were. Not to mention that there were people without food, and people dying from lack of electricity or sick people that became worse due to the Hurricane Maria. The days were boring and short; after the sun went down, there was not much to do. This affected me greatly. Due to the lack of electricity and internet, I did not see an email from one of the internship positions I applied to; the email was an invitation to interview for an internship, but since I did not have email access, I lost my chance.

When I discovered that I lost my first and what I thought was my only opportunity to have an internship at NASA, I felt frustrated and unmotivated. I thought I would not have another chance to become a NASA intern. Despite being frustrated, I did not lose hope and continued applying to more opportunities. About a month later, I received several offers for interviews and was selected for a summer internship at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in 2018. I discovered that the NASA community is kind and has a diverse work environment. I was glad to have been selected for a NASA internship! I was excited because I aimed to acquire a professional experience and, in addition, provide me with a different perspective of interning and possibly working at NASA as a minority.

Jorge’s intern journey leads him to a second internship at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

I know that maybe there are people who, like me, have the same thoughts that I had: thinking that for not having a 4.0 GPA, or for not having important things that stand out in their area of ​​study, they would not be considered. However, it is not like that at all. My message to students: if you try hard enough, you can be here too. It does not matter if you have a category five hurricane against you, if you believe in yourself, you can achieve it.

Jorge currently interns in the Autonomous Systems Laboratory at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

Currently, I’m in my second internship at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. I’m currently working on the Autonomous System Lab developing a program that it will implement the capability to autonomously analyze the behavior of pumps, and apply to the pumps of the Nitrogen System. This capability will enable determination of anomalies and autonomous responses when anomalies are encountered. I’m doing this with help and guidance of my mentor Fernando Figueroa, who has been really helpful and a good mentor. I was just informed that I will continue this internship until the end of summer 2019. After my NASA internship, I will go back to school in Puerto Rico and finish my bachelor’s degree. Moving forward, I would like to get a job at a NASA center where I can continue making a contribution on the future of space exploration.

About the Author
Jorge Martínez is a student at the Universidad Del Turabo, finishing a degree in electrical engineering. He lives in Caguas, Puerto Rico with his parents and younger brother. In addition to going to school, he also has an elevators maintenance job. In his spare time he likes to play basketball with his friends, swim, watch series and go to the beach. When stressed due to workload, he likes to listen to music and eat. When he was a kid, he wanted to be an NBA player and an astronaut at the same time. Although he is 5’8″, he still believes he will make it to the NBA. He has worked hard and put a lot of dedication to finish his career and after that get a master’s degree, but he could not do it without the support and love of his parents and his girlfriend, who are always there to help and motivate him.

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

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.

Alys Averette: New Experiences at NASA Glenn Research Center

Alys Averette never thought she’d attend college. But eight years after graduating high school, she found a way to make it happen… and ended up receiving the opportunity of a lifetime to intern at NASA’s Glenn Research Center.

I never thought I was going to go to college – let alone have the opportunity to intern with NASA. After graduating high school at sixteen from a boarding school for troubled youth, I immediately went into the workforce. I spent years working in fast food and retail, with no expectation that I would go to college. After working my way up the retail ladder, I landed a general management position that allowed me to finally pay for myself to attend college classes part-time.

Fast forward two years from that point: I have fallen in love with biology and chemistry, and one day I stumbled across the NASA online internship application. Because I planned to pursue a degree in astrobiology and I was anxious to develop some experience in the field (rather than continue down my path in retail), I thought NASA would be the perfect place for me to apply for an internship. I thought, “Wouldn’t this be incredibly cool if I actually got to say that I’m going to work for NASA?” So, I filled out an internship application and I waited.

Nine months went by and I had almost forgotten about that application – until I had a missed phone call and a voicemail saying “Hello, this is Mary Ann from NASA Glenn calling about a possible internship opportunity…”

I called her back immediately. As she explained to me who she was and the kind of work she does, I kept thinking, “This is impossible, this can’t be real, this can’t be happening!” Even though I had no idea what aerogels were at the time, when my soon-to-be mentor asked if I was interested in the project, I said “Yes, of course, but… are you sure you want me? I’m a bit of a non-traditional student. I’m 24 and only a sophomore in undergrad.” She explained to me that she’s had older students, as well as less-experienced students and they have all been successful in this internship. I had five business days to accept or decline the offer and I knew that if I turned it down, I would be disappointed in myself for who knows how long. So, I accepted the offer.

Even though I had wanted to be involved with NASA since I was a kid, I never imagined it would actually be possible — especially after going to a boarding school that nobody’s heard of, working at Taco Bell for several years, and starting college eight years after high school. Yet, here I am, writing this story in my office at NASA Glenn Research Center.

I’ve spent my time here working on synthesizing polyimide aerogels, which are a unique material that serve many purposes for NASA in missions requiring exceptional thermal or acoustic insulation. Even though I did not know much about these materials when I started, I have learned how they are made and what they can be used for, such as conformal antennae substrates, extravehicular suits and habitats, and inflatable decelerators for atmospheric re-entry. It has been a fascinating project and an unbelievable learning experience. I still can’t believe I have been granted this opportunity.

I want people to know my story because I’ve learned firsthand that it’s never too late to be a part of something meaningful or to do something you’ve always wanted to do. This internship with NASA has helped me to understand that and has provided me with a foundation for pursuing all kinds of goals I never thought I could. I hope my story as an intern at NASA can inspire hope in others who, like me, might have thought they were too nontraditional, inexperienced, or different to pursue their dreams and, instead, realize that it’s never too late.

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.

Madison Melton: Launching Her Future at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

“Age is but a number” is a phrase familiar to NASA Kennedy intern Madison Melton. Pursuing NASA opportunities in high school led her to receive a fall 2017 internship at the age of 18.

Growing up, I watched the movie Apollo 13 and experienced the adrenaline of “go for launch.” I was captivated by the enormous power and massiveness of rockets, awed by the roar and thrill of blast off, and intrigued by the vastness of space. For me, this is what my dreams were made of.

Now, I’m a NASA intern and living my dream. Although it was hard getting here, the journey was a labor of love. Along the way, I’ve had much help from my mentor, Scott Pleasants, and my parents, LB and Frieda Melton. These people taught me that no one is ever too young to pursue his or her dreams, and encouraged me to pursue my own. Scott, along with my parents, taught me to trust in the doors that God opens, and soon after that my dream of working at NASA became a reality.

During my junior year of high school at the age of 15, I participated in a class held by NASA called Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholars (VASTS). This experience ignited my passion for aerospace and validated my direction and that my dreams are attainable. Graduating as a top VASTS scholar, I was offered the opportunity to go to NASA Langley Summer Academy for a week to develop a mission to Mars. Here, I was with other like-minded students and professionals, pushed myself in new areas, and submerged myself in my dream. Leaving Langley, I was even more determined and focused on becoming an engineer and earning a chance to work at NASA.

After completing several other engineering internships, my chance at NASA came. During the spring semester of my first year of college, my current mentor at NASA, Carlos Alvarado, called to interview me for an internship for fall 2017. I can’t begin to say how honored I am to have been chosen as an intern for NASA. From orientation to tours to seeing rockets being built in the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) and Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), I feel like I am a part of something bigger than myself, and that really drives me to work as hard as I can. Just knowing that I can contribute and help advance humankind by ultimately working towards sending a spacecraft to Mars motivates me to diligently work and excel with the material entrusted to me.

For my internship, I am working with the Launch Services Program (LSP) in the Avionics branch. I evaluate vehicle data from commercial launch providers (i.e. ULA, Space X, and Orbital Sciences) and model that information on IRIS and Winplot scripts/pages. The IRIS system and Winplot telemetry monitoring system are in-house developed applications and serve as the primary tools within LSP for real-time vehicle monitoring during launch vehicle operations, launch day countdowns, and data review. The development of IRIS screens and Winplot scripts is intended to capture recent avionics modifications implemented on current launch providers systems. I support a crew of senior engineers to develop an understanding of launch vehicle system/sub-systems, launch vehicle telemetry, data collection, problem solving, and programming. Also, I monitor launch countdowns, test operations for the rockets, and assess anomalies and issues.

Madison Melton and the "Places We'll Go" banner
At age 18, Madison spend her fall 2017 semester working with the Launch Services Program in the Avionics branch at Kennedy Space Center, where she evaluated and modeled vehicle data from commercial launch providers.

Working with such immense talents and bright minds is inspiring and humbling as well. At eighteen years old, I am the youngest intern in our group for this semester and the youngest in the Launch Services Program Avionics department. I am honored to be here and ready to give NASA my best. Every day, I go to work with a smile on my face, because I think I have the best job in the world.

Xander Levinson: Seeing Beyond at NASA’s Ames Research Center

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is one of NASA’s most highly-anticipated space-borne telescope projects. Its primary objective will be to directly image the oldest galaxies, planets, exoplanets, protostars, and brown dwarfs. The spacecraft, telescope, and its corresponding data receiving systems are still under development, with the complete observatory itself currently projected to launch in the spring of 2019.

I began my college education pursuing a linguistics degree at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, but withdrew for personal and financial reasons after three years. I joined the workforce with a major international retailer until 2009’s recession, at which point I was laid off (then rehired, then laid off again). At this point, I knew retail was not the life for me. I decided to go all-in and chase my passion: SPACE! I started community college at both Golden West College (GWC) and Orange Coast College (OCC) in Orange County, California. It was at GWC that I was introduced to NASA’s educational outreach programs. I cannot emphasize enough the impact these opportunities have had on my life. Through a series of rigorous applications and elimination processes, I had the double honor of being selected to participate in two community college outreach programs at NASA/JPL: the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Undergraduate Scholars (JPLUS) program in the summer of 2015, followed by the National Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program in the spring of 2016.

It is absolutely because of my involvement in these programs that I had the confidence to push myself in school, and to apply for this internship at NASA Ames Research Center. I graduated from GWC with an A.A. in Chemistry and an A.S. in Mathematics; and from OCC with an A.S. in Physics and an A.S. in Astronomy – the first such degree ever conferred by that institution. As I pursue a bachelor’s in astrophysics and a minor in Earth and Planetary Sciences nearby at UC Santa Cruz (Go Banana Slugs!), it has become more and more apparent that my dream career will have me involved with exoplanet discovery and classification programs.

Of course, being a major Trekkie, my absolute dream would be to physically travel to these worlds to analyze them personally. However, since that technology is not currently available, I am happy to work with high-quality spectroscopy data in the meantime. Everyone loves pretty pictures, right? So, this opportunity at Ames was one I could not allow to slip through my hands. Thankfully, I was selected and am excited and proud to work with Tom Greene and his team (including my partner intern Stephanie Striegel from San Jose State University) on the James Webb Space Telescope project.

My goals as an intern on this project are to implement and refine the pipeline for incoming data transmissions (once the telescope is launched), facilitate data reduction of received downlink information, and to provide automated statistical analysis of data. In short, my job is to automate the systematic, efficient identification and classification of substellar objects – with much greater clarity and accuracy than ever before. In order to accomplish this seemingly daunting task, my teammate and I run Python scripts to analyze and sort spectroscopic data, which we will eventually use in describing (in great detail) the constructions and atmospheres of extrasolar bodies. Currently, we are calibrating our codes using sample data from a recent batch of tests run on the instrumentation itself. We plan to further refine it using other data reduction codes provided by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in the near future.

I think the most exciting part of this project is that it is very likely that our work will be how we may someday identify “Earth 2.0” out there! This project is both humbling and inspiring. The work comes with a realization of how small and young we truly are, but it also amazes me how much information we are able to glean from a small beam of light from such distant places. Years from now, when I look at the images that JWST will present to us, I will know that I had a part in making it happen. For me, there is nothing more rewarding than the knowledge that my efforts here at NASA Ames will contribute immeasurably to humanity’s quest to understand the universe, as well as our place in it.