Timothy Denego: 5 Reasons to visit NASA at AISES

Summer 2019 intern, Timothy Denego, shares 5 reasons why students should visit NASA at AISES 2020.

Meet Timothy Denego, a summer 2020 intern in the Office of STEM Engagement at NASA’s Langley Research Center and business administration student at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas.  ⁣

Timothy’s journey and support has been invaluable by the connections he’s made with NASA’s people, student programs, and culture. As NASA attends many career events this fall, read 5 reasons why Timothy encourages #NativesinSTEM to visit NASA at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s (AISES) Conference this month from October 15-17, 2020.

5 Reasons to visit NASA at AISES by Timothy Denego:

Timothy Denego meets NASA engineer Orson John at AISES 2019.

1) Natives at NASA
Natives at NASA has been an integral part for me on pursuing an internship for them. A solidifying moment for me was during the AISES National Conference where I ran into Orson John by the escalators while I was exploring the conference center. We discussed everything from his journey to NASA to academic advice/suggestions.

2) Networking
Making connections is something I encourage students to do as much as they can. During my time at AISES 2019, I attended a couple different NASA panels that were held and gained valuable information about the Natives at NASA and NASA’s culture overall.

3) Opportunity
Being made aware of and exposed to all the information throughout my internship has been invaluable to my educational and professional goals. I’ve had conversations with other more knowledgeable people in their respective fields and have been motivated to potentially enter into a field in which NASA is currently looking into delving more in depth.

4) MAIANSE – Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) for American Indian and Alaska Native Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Engagement
This all wouldn’t have been possible without my initial networking connection I made with Caroline Montgomery, MAIANSE’s Communications Strategist, before even my first AISES conference, but at an AIHEC (American Indian Higher Education Consortium) National Conference in March 2019. I then met her again during my first AISES National Conference in October 2019, where I also met the majority of the Natives at NASA. The MAIANSE mission is something I’ve resonated with since I first learned of it and continue to want to contribute to them anyway I can.

5) Culture
The Culture at NASA is always something I’ve heard about and respected, but to actually intern for them and get firsthand experience as to how they treat all their employees regardless of position is something I’ll never forget. All the employees I met at the conference were all welcoming and all had a desire to answer any questions that students had.

We hope to see you at AISES 2020! Learn more where NASA will be this fall by visiting our fall 2020 career events. Learn more about student opportunities at nasa.gov/stem and internships at intern.nasa.gov.

National Intern Day 2020: LinkedIn Social Q&A Event

For National Intern Day 2020 on July 30, the internships team is answering your questions! Our call to action on LinkedIn gathered questions from the public on our internship programs. Below are Q&A for students interested in a NASA Internship!

Question: My daughter and son are 11 & 9 yr old and are interested in joining this program one day. What coaching and mentoring can you give for these tender minds to prepare for the big day? Subjects and electives to choose in their middle and high school?

NASA STEM Engagement’s website is a great resource for K-12 and Higher Education students and educators. Source: NASA STEM.

NASA Internships: Our NASA STEM Engagement is a great resource and starting point! STEM opportunities are available from K-12 to Higher Education. Make sure to follow NASA STEM on social media as well! Don’t forget to build upon soft skills and take on leadership opportunities. 

Question: How would a high school junior from Orlando apply for one of these internships? What are the requirements in terms of classes and grades – how are they picked? 

NASA Internships:  Our eligibility requirements include:

-US citizen
-16 years of age at time of applying
-3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale
-Attend an accredited institution

Students apply to specific projects on intern.nasa.gov each session. Organizations within the agency will then select students who are the best fit for their project. We encourage you to visit our website to learn more!

Question: I’m looking to change careers and I am a current Masters GIS grad student. For someone in my position, should I be applying to technical internships or entry level positions?

Source: NASA Armstrong.

NASA Internships: You may be eligible to apply to all! When you visit intern.nasa.gov you can learn about NASA STEM Engagement’s internships program, Pathways Program, and Fellowships opportunities. Simultaneously, apply to USAJobs for NASA positions that may interest you! Check out these stories on Careers at NASA Armstrong and 10 Things You Can Be Doing Now to Prepare for a NASA Internship.  

Question: What are key items to include on a resume to increase chances of becoming a candidate for an internship position with NASA? 

Check out our fall 2019’s Virtual Career Fair on NASA STEM’s YouTube Channel. Source: NASA STEM.

NASA Internships: Students apply through intern.nasa.gov, where they tell us more about their education, skill set, experiences, and more. We encourage students to share with us relevant experience they may have associated to the project(s) to which they apply to! We encourage students to ask themselves: what do you want us to know about you? What makes you stand out among your peers? Check out our fall 2019 Virtual Career Fair for more information – be on the look out for a fall 2020 Virtual Career Fair as well! 

Question: How do you get an Internship if you are not a US Citizen?

NASA Internships: We have two opportunities you can check out! The first is our NASA International Internship Program, where only current countries participating with agreements are eligible. The second is NASA JPL’s Visiting Student Research Program, where visiting students have secured funding from third-party sponsors who are not associated with NASA or JPL funding sources. Learn more by visiting these programs directly. 

Question: We got a number of questions asking about what kinds of projects are available within physics, communications, and history projects!  

‘Preview Projects’ prior to applying. Source: NASA Internships.

NASA Internships: Projects vary at every center each session. Once you complete an application, you will be able to apply the available projects for the specified session. You can use filters to locate specific projects that meet your desired geographic location and skill sets. Projects include both STEM and non-STEM opportunities!

Want to get ahead? You can preview projects to see what’s currently available! Go to ‘Preview Projects,’ select the session you’re interested in, and search for title key words (i.e. aerospace, physics, history, communications, etc.).

Question: To the coordinators: What was it that made these interns stand out the most as candidates? Outside of academics, what characteristics were you most excited to see demonstrated?

NASA Internships: Our coordinators and mentors like to see a variety of skillsets, experience, and knowledge. This includes: how do you demonstrate leadership skills, problem-solving, and build upon teamwork? To further assist you, here are 10 Things You Can Do Now to Prepare for a NASA Internship. You can also learn more about what our #NASAinterns are saying by reading their blogs and stories 

Thank you for joining us this National Intern Day 2020! We look forward to your student application and encourage you to visit intern.nasa.gov to learn more. Follow us on social media to ensure you stay connect with NASA Internships: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

NASA Internships Celebrates National Intern Day 2020 with Social Q&A Events

Have you ever wanted to ask a NASA intern how they got their internship? Do you want to ask intern coordinators for application tips? On Thursday, July 30th, you can!

NASA is celebrating National Intern Day 2020 with Social Q&A events on Reddit, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Our panelists will consist of interns, subject matter experts, and intern coordinators who will answer your questions!

National Intern Day 2020 Social Q&A Schedule:

Instagram: 11 am – 5 pm ET

@NASAinternships

Questions collected in advance via call to action Q&A sticker.

—–

Reddit AMA: 1:30 pm – 2:30 pm ET

https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/

Q&A will be live. Check back for Reddit link!

—–

LinkedIn: 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm ET

https://www.linkedin.com/company/nasa/

Questions collected via a NASA post. Check back on 7/30 to see your question answered!

—–

Twitter: 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm ET

@NASAInterns

Q&A will be live. Tag us and use #NASAinterns!

Learn more about NASA Internships: https://intern.nasa.gov/.

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

Well, This Is Incredibly Incovenient

By Missy Matthias

Kyler Li attends the University of Pennsylvania and is an intern at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. Photo courtesy of Kyler Li.

Nothing Motivates Like the Last Minute

I found out about my internship offer while I was in the midst of packing up to leave my university for summer break and finishing up the last of my finals. I only had a handful of weeks to figure out where I would be staying, how I would be getting to work, and how I would manage to survive 10 weeks in the South all on my own.

I Think I May Be Homeless!

By this time, a lot of interns had found their roommates, carpools, and many living spaces in the area were full. I remember desperately calling apartments as soon as they opened for business in the morning and writing emails to potential landlords right before I boarded my plane home.

Rental Cars Are Not An Option

Because of my age, I would not be able to rent a car in the area and frantically reached out to every intern I could to ask about possible carpools. I dipped into my savings to figure out my plane ticket to Mississippi and made an Excel worksheet to calculate all my expenses. I had never really been to the South and had no idea what to expect.

No Bed, No Car, No Problem

It was like moving into college all over again, but I had no information, no idea of what to do, and a looming deadline that was rapidly approaching. At one point, I was afraid I would land in Mississippi and be completely homeless, without a ride, and miles away from work. Luckily, a room with a Stennis employee opened up at the last minute. However, as I laid in my bed the night before my internship started, I still had no ride and feared that I would have no choice but to leave my internship before the first day. My housemate even suggested that I should start looking at plane tickets to go back home.

Don’t Tell Me I Can’t!

I didn’t know what I was going to do or how I was going to get to the Stennis Space Center, but I was determined to make it there the first day and set foot into NASA. I did not travel 2,286 miles to quit my journey before it had even begun.

You Will Figure It Out

I am incredibly fortunate that Stennis has the best interns and grateful that so many people offered to help after I shared my plight on the first day. Before lunch, I had a carpool set in place and several new friends who offered to go out of their way to make sure I would be able to make it to work every day. Every time we make weekend plans or after work outings, someone always offers me a ride to make sure I won’t be excluded if I want to go. I am very appreciative that everything worked out for me and I can’t wait to see how the rest of this internship will go!

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.

Jasmine Hopkins: The Craft of Communication at NASA’s Langley Research Center

In 2016, a friend messaged me on Facebook asking if I knew any college juniors or seniors that would like to apply for internships at the Virginia Arts Festival, one of Virginia’s leading performing arts presenters. I, an overly eager college sophomore, jumped at the opportunity. After gaining further information and awkwardly trying to backpedal, I realized there was no harm in applying. I was blessed to acquire the position, and as a result became fascinated with marketing and communications. Fast forward about two years, after two internships in the entertainment industry, I am currently a communications intern at NASA Langley Research Center. Having transitioned from the entertainment industry into the STEM field, I’ve learned that these very different environments share a range of similarities. From working with artists to working with engineers I have found that in every workplace, communication is the foundation of clarity, understanding and collaboration.

Jasmine Hopkins in front of Langley Research Center’s NASA Meatball.

In my current role I support outreach and interdepartmental communication for the Fabrication Technology Development Branch (FTDB). This takes many forms which are determined by the audience and content. For outreach, organizational tours are the primary form of communication. Tours, which vary by age and number of attendees, act as educational events that cover the capabilities and projects in FTDB. For internal communication, I create Snapshots for the Engineering Directorate on behalf of FTDB. Snapshots are weekly updates that allow employees to follow the progress of major projects and feature their work or contributions.

Jasmine Hopkins and other team members in front of ISAAC, a robot at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

To improve the accuracy and clarity of communication, I study the equipment in FTDB, manage the employee Snapshot database, and regularly speak with researchers to fact-check information concerning their projects. However, I’ve found that accurate, clear communication isn’t enough. Well-rounded communication should also be personable because people are interested in the employees behind the work. I’ve had the opportunity to orchestrate tours for employees, students and fellow interns. During the summer, I gave a tour to a group of NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars that taught me the value of well-rounded communication. I gave my rehearsed speech and included a little information about myself, a community college graduate. Later, one of their supervisors thanked me saying, “You helped them see themselves here.” The tour was well received, but not because it contained a lot of technical information. It was well received because of our commonality. That experience taught me that communication is the essence of human connection, and I am thankful every day that I have the opportunity to support communication here at NASA.

Jasmine Hopkins is a current student at Christopher Newport University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. She previously earned her Associate of Science in Business Administration from Tidewater Community College.

Margarita Bassil: Transfiguration and Determination at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

I always had a passion for art and science, but was unsure as to what career path would incorporate both interests. After doing some research, I discovered the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields and decided that I wanted to be one of the world’s problem solvers – I wanted to be an Engineer.

When I informed my parents of my decision, my father replied, “Margo, why don’t you do something easy?” Initially convinced that my father doubted my ability to perform well academically, I made sure to inform him of every A I earned throughout my years in high school to demonstrate that I had the ability to succeed as an engineering student. However, it was not until I started my engineering journey at Valencia College in Central Florida that I realized academia was not the only challenge I was going to encounter.

NASA Inters in flight suits at NASA Kennedy
NASA Kennedy’s Jalime Vargas (left) and Margarita Bassil (right) in flight suits standing outside the Operations and Controls building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Walking into my “Introduction to Engineering” course, I was one of approximately twenty women in a large auditorium filled with men. Realizing there was no amount of studying to overcome this surprising statistic, I found myself very discouraged. Looking for words of encouragement, I came across one of John F. Kennedy’s famous quotes during his speech about the Apollo program, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” With those words in mind, I transfigured any feelings of discouragements into motivation and took the lead role for the engineering project assigned to each group. Although there were many hurdles along the way, I discovered that embedded in every failure and mistake is a lesson to learn and a challenge to overcome.

This self-epiphany convinced me to attempt a goal that originally appeared out of reach – interning at NASA. With little to no previous experience besides handling cash, I doubted my first internship would be at one of the world’s most prestigious aerospace agencies. Remembering my passion of opposing challenges, I converted every ounce of doubt into determination and applied to an internship at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center located in Merritt Island, Florida. I informed my parents that, if given the opportunity, I would accept the offer without hesitation regardless of how far it was from home. To my surprise, I received and accepted the offer on my birthday. Wishes do come true!

Interning at Kennedy Space Center has allowed me to enhance my leadership and problem solving skills with the practice of open communication and collaboration. I also get the opportunity to practice my concept of transfiguration the NASA way by “failing forward” and interpreting mistakes as lessons. Going forward, I will apply this ideology to fuel my passion of becoming an engineer so that I may influence other women to pursue a degree in STEM and continuously improve myself in both academia and life itself.

A Week in the Life of Space Law Interns at Kennedy Space Center

What does it mean to be a space law intern? What does space law even mean? Before beginning our summer internship, we had very little exposure to this exciting world. Now that we’ve gained a bit of experience, we’d like to share what a typical week looks like.

Sarah & Nicole in front of the KSC sign.
Sarah Iacomini (left) and Nicole Williamson (right) interned at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center during the summer of 2018.

About Sarah

  • University of Virginia School of Law (Expected 2020)
  • University of Florida, M.S. in Management (2016), B.A. in Spanish and International Studies (2015)

When I was little, I watched the Apollo 13 movie over and over again ꟷ surprised each time that duct tape saved the astronauts. Since then, I admittedly have not had much interaction with space… but when I was given the chance to tackle space law, I accepted because, really, who wouldn’t want to work for NASA? These past few weeks have been a major learning curve in space technology and NASA acronyms. Here, the day-to-day attorney work mostly revolves around what happens on Earth: administrative, procurement, and intellectual property law, among many other practice areas. Each day has been new adventure, and I’m excited to learn more about the federal government throughout the summer.

About Nicole

  • Harvard Law School (Expected 2020)
  • Washington University in St. Louis, B.A. in Political Science (2016)

On the very first day of law school, we were asked to envision our future. What was the coolest thing we could possibly imagine doing in our careers? My answer: to be the first lawyer in space. To me, space is the future, and I want to be at the forefront of helping shape and enforce the laws that make space exploration possible. This summer, I’ve gotten the chance to advance one step closer; by enhancing my knowledge of the law through fascinating administrative law projects, and by learning what it takes to actually go into space.

What does our week look like?

Monday

Sarah Iacomini (left) and Nicole Williamson (right) in front of the Space Shuttle Atlantis at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Sarah Iacomini (left) and Nicole Williamson (right) in front of the Space Shuttle Atlantis at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Our drive into Kennedy Space Center each morning takes us down the causeway, a thin grass strip cutting across the heart of the shimmering Indian River. Approaching KSC, the mockup of a red external fuel tank that looms above the Visitor Center’s Atlantis exhibit serves as a landmark, an immediate reminder to all who enter: we’re in space territory now. While at KSC, we’ve had the unbelievable opportunity to visit the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the tallest single-story building in the world; see the launch pads, crawler-transporter, and mobile launcher; and many of the center’s non-space wonders, such as the alligators, wild pigs, and native birds that call this nature preserve home.

Amid this incredible world of space vehicles and the people who bring inventions to life, we study the law. It may seem less glamorous, but it’s no less important. In the Chief Counsel’s office, we help research the laws that determine who works on these projects and how people interact; how we get all the supplies needed; who has “rights” to these newly developed inventions; and most importantly, how it’s all paid for. In other words, we look at laws in the realm of employment, ethics, intellectual property, procurement, and appropriations.

On any given Monday, you may find us researching an issue in the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), trying to find the relevant clause. Or you may find us looking up cases – hours of modifying search terms and reading through opinions waiting for that exciting flash of recognition… a case that directly addresses our research question!

Tuesday

Tuesdays are for staff meetings! The entire Chief Counsel’s office gathers to discuss the week’s most important legal issues, both the big, ongoing concerns and the “small fires” – pressing issues the attorneys need to untangle to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Wednesday

On Wednesday mornings, we attend meetings with the Technology Transfer Office. The 1958 Space Act directs NASA to “provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof.”  In keeping with this directive to disseminate NASA inventions, Tech Transfer facilitates commercialization efforts for NASA Kennedy Space Center-developed technologies. The work often involves consultation with the intellectual property law team to review patentable technologies, licensure capabilities, and any concerns related to proprietary information.

Thursday

Sarah Iacomini samples peppers grown in the "Veggie" Lab at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
Sarah Iacomini samples peppers grown in the “Veggie” Lab at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

One incredible opportunity we’ve had is to take tours of NASA facilities and labs. For instance, last Thursday we visited the Vegetable Production System lab, or “Veggie,” which allows for plant growth in space. NASA has been involved in the development of several crops – for example, lettuce was recently grown on the International Space Station (check this out to see the astronauts eat it!). As NASA plans for longer voyages, growing plants that can provide replenishment of nutrients vital to human health are high in demand. Peppers are a great space-crop candidate – they have nearly quadruple the amount of Vitamin-C as a glass of orange juice. We even got to try some! Additionally, growing plants in space also benefit the psychological health of astronauts far from home.

Friday

Okay, so *maybe* this doesn’t happen every week, but last Friday we watched a commercial resupply mission head to the International Space Station. Around 4:45 A.M., we unfolded our lawn chairs on the causeway, directly facing Space Launch Complex 40. At 5:42 A.M., the first glimmer of yellow light flashed on the horizon, and within minutes the only trace of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was a spectacular multi-colored vapor trail hovering above the horizon. The once-in-a-lifetime experience was a true testament to how lucky we are to be law interns in the heart of space research and exploration.