Lunar Soil: The Key to Breathing in Space- Shayla Wilhelm

Shayla Wilhelm standing in front of the Launch Crawler
Shayla Wilhelm standing in front of the Crawler Transporter.

If you can dream it, you can do it. Shayla Wilhelm saw the frothy sea of the Milky Way as she grew up in a small town in New York. Using a telescope, Wilhelm saw stars and planets shining everywhere across the sky. After realizing how much she loved what she saw in the sky, she ended up seeing a future in aerospace engineering. 

Oxygen in Space 

If astronauts on the moon can harness the oxygen under their feet, sustaining a human presence on the moon may not be so difficult after all,” Wilhelm said. Currently, Wilhelm is a junior at the Florida Institute of Technology where she is majoring in Aerospace Engineering. As a former NASA intern at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, she worked on the Molten Regolith Electrolysis (MRE) Project. 

The purpose of the MRE Project is to create oxygen on the Moon and to use it in astronaut tanks. By taking the soil on the Moon, Wilhelm would then melt it and run an electric current through it. This would split apart the metal oxides into molten metal and oxygen. After this process, the metal would then sink, allowing the oxygen to be separated, harvested, and eventually purified and distributed. 

This process is potentially an important step in setting up long-term research centers on the moon and beyond. 

Internship Takeaway 

As an intern, Wilhelm had a very hard time to describe an “average” day while at NASA. While she spent every single day differently, she is grateful that her days as an intern was always a unique experience. From staying in the lab and analyzing data, to working in the machine shop and getting her hands dirty, Wilhelm would always be excited and feel lucky enough to take on these new and innovative tasks every single day. Wilhelm also got the opportunity to expand upon her software skills, improve her technical writing, and more. 

Have you ever dreamed of working with NASA? Check out our website for more opportunities and information. Also, feel free to read more exciting stories such as Andrew Hoang, another former NASA intern who worked on parachute landings! 

‘I’m Not Qualified,’ Intern’s Life Detour Towards her Dreams

 

‘There is no one road to get where you are going and there is no timeline. I am incredibly happy to use the life experiences I’ve learned on my detour to my internship.’ Susie Bennett interns at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after years of pursuing an entirely different career. (NASA/Susie Bennett).
‘There is no one road to get where you are going and there is no timeline. I am incredibly happy to use the life experiences I’ve learned on my detour to my internship.’ Susie Bennett interns at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after years of pursuing an entirely different career. (NASA/Susie Bennett).

When going through life, our paths may seem linear, but that is far from the truth. For every choice we make, there are multiple options and paths presented to us. When given the opportunity, would you change your path? For Susie Bennett, a current intern at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, her path to an internship was far from linear. With a degree in business and a resume filled with retail management, the idea of ever working at NASA seemed like an out of reach prospect. Despite all of this, she never gave up on her dream of working in the space industry.
 

Rediscovering Past Interests

A common question we all get when going through school is “what do you want to be when you grow up?” While these answers are simply aspirations, they can make a big impact on your field of study. An aspiring doctor may take a bigger interest in biology, an aspiring painter may look more into the arts, or an aspiring engineer may look into welding courses. 

Bennett spent her years in grade school as a lover of space and science. She used her free time reading and watching the shuttles launch from a distance in her southwest Florida home. However, as she grew older, she struggled with the subjects she once was fond of and decided to put STEM behind her in favor of the arts and humanities. 

After obtaining a B.A. in Business Administration, Bennett worked in retail management for a decade. While she gained valuable experience in the industry, she felt that it was lacking the fulfillment she needed. One day, she decided to change all of that. 

A Major Life Change

Bennett enrolled in a biology program as a student researcher on two different projects. In the first, she worked on dissecting mosquitos and evaluating their microbiomes. In the second, she performed spectral analysis of yeast bio transformed compounds in beer. 

With her newly gained knowledge and confidence within the science field, Bennett started as a research and development scientist at a biotech company. Then she continued her journey as a brewery scientist and built a lab program from scratch. During this time, Bennett learned that NASA Internships were available for graduate students.  

With a childhood longing to work in the space industry as her motivator, she immediately went to apply. ‘I realized I was the only person standing in my way. I wasn’t going to stand in my way this time. I wanted to make elementary school me proud,’ Bennett said. 

Bennett’s Time at NASA 

Bennett accepted an offer as an Exploration Research and Technology Programs intern. She worked on a team who researched the unique stressors for biological life in a space environment using plants as the subject. While spaceflight experiments are not always possible due to time constraints and cost, ground-based equipment may be used to simulate the space environment. 

A Zinnia plant pillow floats through the U.S. Destiny Laboratory aboard the International Space Station. The challenging process of growing the zinnias provided an exceptional opportunity for scientists back on Earth to better understand how plants grow in microgravity. (NASA Johnson Space Center /International Space Station).
A Zinnia plant pillow floats through the U.S. Destiny Laboratory aboard the International Space Station. The challenging process of growing the zinnias provided an exceptional opportunity for scientists back on Earth to better understand how plants grow in microgravity. (NASA Johnson Space Center /International Space Station).

The team evaluated 40 scientific papers detailing the accuracy of machines stimulating gravity on earth. Data was compiled and reviewed for how closely simulated microgravity results compared to those obtained from experiments conducted in real microgravity. 

‘This internship signifies a major turning point in my life, not necessarily only on a professional level, but on a personal level. It signifies an end to the doubt I’ve let fill my head. It quieted the voice that spent too long telling me, ‘I’m not qualified.’ It marks the moment I realized I can do anything that I put my mind to, and it puts to bed the idea that there is only one path to success,’ Bennet said. 

Take the leap and apply for an internship. Start your application on our website or read more stories about the paths to working for NASA. Want to prepare for your internship? Read about the six habits of successful interns at NASA. 

Carolina Rodriguez, STEM Engagement Communications Intern
Claire O’Shea, STEM Engagement Communications Intern, Editor
NASA Johnson Space Center 

 

Mentorship is Vital to the Internship Experience

‘Our mentors, engineers, and people from other teams and projects were always accessible whenever we had roadblocks. They provided thorough feedback on our work and gave us a great technical experience.’ Kyndall Jones sitting in a cockpit at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center. The computer-science major at Howard University worked at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory as an software engineer and instrument operations intern. Photo credit: (NASA JPL/Kyndall Jones).
‘Our mentors, engineers, and people from other teams and projects were always accessible whenever we had roadblocks. They provided thorough feedback on our work and gave us a great technical experience.’ Kyndall Jones sitting in a cockpit at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center. The computer-science major at Howard University worked at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory as an software engineer and instrument operations intern. Photo credit: (NASA JPL/Kyndall Jones).

Despite the telework nature of this summer’s internship, Kyndall said that even from her home in Dayton, Ohio, she has been able to foster connections with JPL employees and gain valuable experience in her role working on software for an Earth-science instrument that will help NASA understand how different types of air pollution, which can cause serious health problems, affect human health.

And thanks to her mentor, Operations Systems Engineer Janelle Wellons, Kyndall was able to get the type of hands-on NASA experience that’s been hard to come by since the pandemic.

Photo credit: (NASA JPL Cal-Tech/Janelle Wellons).
Photo credit: (NASA JPL Cal-Tech/Janelle Wellons).

‘My mentor Janelle suggested that I come visit Los Angeles for a few days this summer, and I was finally able to visit and explore the city for the first time,’ Kyndall said. ‘I am also super grateful for her setting up a tour at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center where we were able to view, tour, and learn lots of interesting facts about NASA’s historical aircraft.’

Janelle splits her time operating instruments aboard several Earth-observing missions. She has been  involved in previous years’ roundtable discussions with historically black colleges and university interns. Being from the East Coast herself, Wellons remembers having little awareness of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a potential career landing spot while studying at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

‘Getting visibility and actually partnering with these schools to make these internships happen is so important . . . [internships] benefit JPL by broadening the talent pool and diversity of our workforce,’ Janelle said.

While interning under Janelle, Kyndall worked on the Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) project. MAIA will make radiometric and polarimetric measurements needed to characterize the sizes, compositions and quantities of particulate matter in air pollution.

‘I can confidently say I wouldn’t have grown and learned as much as I have without their [mentors] constant feedback, support . . . and guidance.’

Do YOU want to be on the NASA team? Check out our website to learn more about the Artemis Generation and find information on eligibility and application steps. Want more content? Check out five important tips and words of advice from women interns in STEM.

Excerpts taken from the features writer for Internal Communications at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Taylor Hill, and his article on JPL Internship Program Expanding Diversity in STEM.

Claire A. O’Shea / NASA Johnson Space Center

 

 

Cognitive Communications: Strengthening NASA’s AI Presence in Space

Shilpa Kancharla working virtually from home during her Space Communications and Navigation Internship Project (SIP) position in the summer of 2021.

From self-driving cars to digital assistants, the future of technology development lies in the role that artificial intelligence (AI) will play to bridge the gap between human and machine. In a specialized area of this growing field, NASA currently is developing cutting-edge cognitive communications tools to utilize AI in space.

Cognitive communications research advances communication capabilities for missions by increasing the autonomy of links, networks, and service scheduling. A cognitive spacecraft can adapt to changing conditions by producing reasonable outcomes in scenarios that extend beyond the pre-programmed knowledge of its original inception.

The development of autonomous spacecraft is essential for NASA as the agency explores deeper areas of the universe than ever before. A cognitive spacecraft learns from previous data collected over time, in turn keeping up with NASA’s technological advancements, to transition toward a decentralized cognitive space communications system. As the system learns from itself with autonomous technologies, the spacecraft or engine can make advancements within itself based on what it learned without human intervention on the ground.

Shilpa Kancharla, a 2021 Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) intern at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, spent her summer working with mentors Dr. Charles Doxley and Dr. Rachel Dudukovich, engineers on the Cognitive Communications project, to create tutorials for the utilization of communications data in various AI systems.

The SCaN Intern Project (SIP) is a ten-week-long internship hosted by Glenn , NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. SIP allows students to gain hands-on experience working with interdisciplinary mentors on real NASA missions in specialized areas of space communications and navigation.

Kancharla, a master’s student at North Carolina State University, spent the summer analyzing various programming tools, specifically tools such as Nengo and Amazon SageMaker, to determine how to add the maximum amount of value to NASA’s existing AI architecture for space communications missions. The first tool Kancharla analyzed was Nengo, a tool that allows for neural network simulation on larger scales.

“Nengo is a Python package that contains functions and other code that help mimic the brain structure for higher processing tasks, like recognition and perception,” Shilpa said. “It’s a step up from other Python packages that are related to AI.”

Example of the code Shilpa created in Nengo for the Cognitive Communications project at NASA’s Glenn Research Center

This area of AI, or Cognitive, technology aims to mitigate the increasing communication complexity for mission users. By increasing the effectiveness of cognitive communications technology, NASA could create communications CubeSats with the ability to overcome obstacles, respond to and learn from their environments, and achieve beneficial goals to the completion of their primary missions with minimal to no human interaction, a large step from the existing navigations infrastructure.

The guide Shilpa worked on will instruct users in handling the Nengo programming tool, demonstrate how to create new sections of code, explain what each interface does, and review document variables—all while highlighting the largest benefits Nengo offers as an AI interface.

Shilpa analyzed the effectiveness of a second Python tool, SageMaker, as well.

“SageMaker allows you to develop, train, and deploy machine learning models with data you have in the cloud,” said Shilpa. “It’s not local to your computer; anyone who has access to it with the right credentials can see your work model.”

Python was Shilpa’s programming language of choice because it is the best language for AI and machine learning. The AI-related programming tools that Shilpa investigated will contribute to real NASA missions.

“I hope to compare the Python code that I write independently on my computer for a task to how SageMaker can automate it [for NASA],” Shilpa said. “We basically assess the accuracy of our [AI] model between the code I write and the accuracy that SageMaker obtains.”

Shilpa received an offer to return to NASA GRC SIP for a fall internship and will continue her project work virtually while earning her master’s degree in computer science at North Carolina State University.

Learn more about the NASA SCaN Internship Project here. Read more about NASA’s Cognitive Communication’s project here.

Shilpa Kancharla speaking with former NASA Astronaut Alvin Drew during her virtual 2021 GRC SIP internship.

By Bronson Christian

Podcasts Highlight the NASA Intern Experience

If you’re fascinated by the idea of interning at NASA, contributing to NASA missions and exploring the extraordinary every day, you’ve come to the right place. Listen to #NASAinterns experiences via NASA’s Podcasts! Don’t see a topic here that you want to learn more about? Tweet us your recommendation!

Houston, We Have a Podcast: How to Be a Successful Intern at NASA

Interns Jaden Chambers from Kennedy Space Center and Leah Davis from Johnson Space Center are joined by mentor Kelly Smith in this episode examining the highly effective habits of successful interns. This episode will be available July 29 at https://www.nasa.gov/johnson/HWHAP.

The Invisible Network Podcast: 2021 Interns

Each year, NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Internship Project welcomes students of all levels to develop projects of real benefit to the agency while earning real world experience in their fields. In this episode of The Invisible Network podcast, we’ll speak with members of 2021’s intern cohort at three different NASA centers. This episode was published on July 29 at https://www.nasa.gov/invisible.

Small Steps, Giant Leaps Podcast: Intern Takeover

Interns take over the Small Steps, Giant Leaps, podcast from NASA’s Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership (APPEL) Knowledge Services. This episode was published on July 29 at https://www.nasa.gov/podcasts/small-steps-giant-leaps.

Women in STEM

Sophia Hahn, Shelita Hall, and Emily Anderson, NASA interns from across the agency, discuss being women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math), their journey to work at NASA, and the unique opportunities they have experienced during their internship. This episode was recorded on June 14, 2021 and available at https://www.nasa.gov/johnson/HWHAP/women-in-stem.

Uncommon Origins

Shawn Cvetezar, Laura Paulino, and Don Caluya, NASA interns representing NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Ames Research Center, and Johnson Space Center, respectively, reflect upon the non-traditional paths that led them to NASA and share the many areas and projects that are benefitting from their experience. This episode was recorded on May 27, 2021 and available at https://www.nasa.gov/johnson/HWHAP/uncommon-origins.

Citizen Science on Station

Sarah Smith, a NASA intern, interviews students who were recently selected to fly their experiments to the International Space Station as part of the program under NASA’s STEM on Station initiative called Student Payload Opportunity with Citizen Science, or SPOCS. The interviews for this episode were recorded in March of 2021 and available at https://www.nasa.gov/johnson/HWHAP/citizen-science-on-station.

Better Together

Shaneequa Vereen, public affairs specialist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, speaks with NASA interns as they recount their journey with NASA, sharing their backgrounds and experiences they had before and during their time with the agency.  The content for this episode was recorded on February 5, 2021 and available at https://www.nasa.gov/johnson/HWHAP/better-together.

Pathways

Jonathan Abary, Pathways Program Manager, and Alexis Vance, Pathways intern in the crew and thermal systems division, discuss the Pathways internship program at NASA Johnson Space Center. This podcast was recorded on March 20th, 2019 and available at https://www.nasa.gov/johnson/HWHAP/pathways.

Want more? Learn more about NASA Internships by:

As NASA continues to move forward with the Artemis program, you, the Artemis Generation and future STEM workforce, will help take us to distant worlds. Are you ready? Visit us and apply at https://intern.nasa.gov.

NASA Intern to Students: Explore, Discover, and Apply!

Credits: Marvin Jones.

My name is Marvin Q. Jones, Jr. I am a PhD student majoring in astrophysics at the Indiana University Bloomington. I am currently interning at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the title of my intern project is “Pulsed Fission Fusion (PuFF) Propulsion System.”

Name: Marvin Q. Jones, Jr.
Degree: Astrophysics, PhD student
Institution: Indiana University Bloomington
NASA Center: Marshall Space Flight Center
Project Title: Pulsed Fission Fusion (PuFF) Propulsion System

About my project:
PuFF aims to create a propulsion system that will take exploration to new levels with goals of missions to Mars, Alpha Centauri, and other deep space exploration. The PuFF concept makes use of mathematical and physics models in COMSOL to simulate feasibility and efficiency of various components such as the pusher plate nozzle and electromagnetic coil gun. Physically, the system will take in lower energy input, which will lead to a smaller, less expensive (hybrid) propulsion system. Lower energy input will translate into smaller capacitor banks and a smaller overall propulsion system. A smaller system would have far reaching applications toward other projects with NASA.

My journey to NASA and advice to students:
I have wanted to work for NASA since the 5th grade when my teacher, Mr. John Evans who currently works for NASA, taught my class to build a Mars terrain, and use LEGOs to build and program our own rovers. My internship strengthened my desire to be a computational astrophysicist for NASA and apply to become an Astronaut. Exploring space vehicle design, physics models, numerical simulation, and applications to space exploration was an experience I will treasure when I hope to someday see Earth from space. This internship helped me realize that my background, my village, and training fully prepared me to do the work.

Growing up in Newport News, VA, and living in Newsome Park, VA, which was where Dorothy Vaughn lived for a period of her life feels like a deeper connection to those formerly Hidden Figures who came before me. North Carolina A&T State University, my undergraduate institution, always taught me to explore, discover, and become anything I thought possible. North Carolina A&T didn’t teach me what to think but how to think, which for any intern is key. Thinking about problems and asking good questions is an artform that every intern at NASA needs in their toolkit.

Credits: Marvin Jones.

I think any student with a curious mind should give the internship program a try. No question I asked was too small or too great, experimentation with ideas was highly encouraged, the ability to contribute and be heard was appreciated, and the skills I gained are unfathomable. I would advise any applicant to assess their current skills and the skills they desire–speak on both as they apply. It is about being teachable just as much as it is about what you contribute. As I stare at the canvas of my future, NASA has given me new skills to curate a masterpiece. To students: explore, discover, and apply!

Roy sisters intern at NASA while pursuing their engineering degrees

By Ramona Barajas-Villar

Women’s History Month: Recognizing some of our intern leaders 

At NASA we celebrate Women’s History Month by recognizing some of our interns and their contributions to NASA. Meet the Roy sisters: Puja & Pratima.

Meet Puja Roy, an intern at NASA's Glenn Research Center.
Credits: Puja Roy.

Puja Roy

Puja Roy is an intern at NASA Glenn Research Center and a sophomore at New York City College of Technology majoring in Computer Engineering Technology shares her NASA internship journey. 

Tell us about your intern journey to NASA or anything you would like to share. 

I have been interning remotely at NASA Glenn Research Center since Fall 2020 and I am proud of my accomplishments because working for NASA on a STEM project is the most rewarding experience ever!

What is your role on your current project?

I am a Software Engineer Co-op Intern at NASA Glenn Research Center.

How does your project tie into the Moon To Mars mission? The Artemis program? Any other NASA mission?

I am currently working on the same project “Converting Java Applets to JavaScript for web-based Aeronautics Simulations” which I have been working on during Fall 2020. This STEM project ties into the Moon to Mars mission and the Artemis program because it is an extensively popular site that receives high traffic views and consists of lesson plans, projects and interactive simulations to explore the theory and practice of flight in space.

How are you staying connected to other interns? NASA employees?

I am staying connected to NASA employees and other interns by attending weekly meetings in Microsoft Teams.

What student organization (school, community, etc.) has helped you develop professionally in your STEM/non-STEM journey?

CUNY New York College of Technology and the clubs/organizations that I am affiliated with has helped me develop professionally in my STEM journey by providing me resources and endless opportunities.

How do you feel interning during #CountdownToMars?!

I feel electrified and elated interning during #CountdowntoMars!

Provide a quote about how you feel about your role at NASA.

I feel thrilled and welcomed at NASA of working as a Software Engineer (OSTEM) Co-op intern because I have achieved many accomplishments by contributing to NASA missions, completing online SATERN trainings and gaining support and guidance from my mentors.

Meet Pratima Roy, an intern at NASA's Glenn Research Center.
Credits: Pratima Roy.

Pratima Roy

Pratima Roy, an intern at NASA Glenn Research Center and a senior at New York City College of Technology majoring in Computer Engineering Technology. Roy shares her experiences of interning at NASA. 

Tell us about your intern journey to NASA or anything you would like to share. 

I truly believe that God and the support of my family has given me the opportunity to intern at NASA. God observes everything we do and what we want in our lives and a dream can actually come true!

What is your role on your current project?

I am a Computer Engineering Student studying at CUNY New York City College of Technology. I am enjoying and working very hard on the PeTaL project here at NASA Glenn Research Center. 

How does your project tie into the Moon To Mars mission? The Artemis program? Any other NASA mission?

My project ties into the Moon to Mars mission because I am learning about Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Biomimicry and AWS Web services. Our work can tie into this by having Robots or tasks completed at Moon to gather data and labeling. I know that when the Astronauts go to the Moon, they will need many data collection and research from Moon to Earth. This made me think about how my project ties into this because when going to the Moon we will need information from Moon and other planets. Then we can have that information on Earth. The Scientists and Researchers can work on implementing more strategies and devices to gather and collect in order to reach Mars safely and smoothly. 

How are you staying connected to other interns? NASA employees?

I am connected with NASA employees and other interns through Microsoft Teams and Slack.

What student organization (school, community, etc.) has helped you develop professionally in your STEM/non-STEM journey?

WiTNY and Rewriting the Code has helped me develop professionally in my STEM journey.

How do you feel interning during #CountdownToMars?!

I feel so blessed and excited to intern during the Count down to Mars because I am able to learn and be part of an amazing government agency-wide organization to contribute my work with NASA interns and employees.

From immigrant to working on NASA’s Computational Fluid Dynamics codes

By Ramona Barajas-Villar

Women’s History Month: Recognizing some of our intern leaders 

At NASA we celebrate Women’s History Month by recognizing some of our interns and their contributions to NASA.  Meet Wendy Yang. Wendy is an intern at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center and a student at the University of California, Berkeley where she is majoring in Mechanical Engineering. 

Meet Wendy Yang, an intern at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center.
Credits: Wendy Yang.

Tell us about your intern journey to NASA or anything you would like to share.

My journey started over a decade ago, when I found out about NASA by flipping through TV channels and came upon NASA TV. I was a new immigrant to the US who didn’t understand or speak English at the time, but the space imagery on screen fascinated me to this day. I learned more about what NASA does in middle school as part of the NASA Explorer School program, and I was encouraged to study math and science in order to pursuit a career in the field by my teachers and a current NASA employee. This resulted in me pursuing a mechanical engineering major at my current university. However, upon entering college, I had doubts about my abilities and did not apply for an internship despite being eligible after naturalization. It wasn’t until my junior year when my aerodynamics professor recommended to me that I should apply for an internship to further my development that I finally decided to apply for a NASA internship.

What is your role on your current project?

I write codes that performs CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) simulation on airfoils.

How does your project tie into the Moon To Mars mission? The Artemis program? Any other NASA mission?

My project focuses on aeronautics, one of the key missions of NASA since its NACA days. My project seeks to reach greater heights of what is possible in aircraft designs by exploring fundamental aerodynamic theories and develop cutting edge aeronautics technology.

How are you staying connected to other interns? NASA employees?

I am staying connected via PAXC (Promoting Agency Cross-Center Connections), a student organization within NASA that connects interns and students across all of NASA.

What student organization (school, community, etc.) has helped you develop professionally in your STEM/non-STEM journey?

I am currently a part of Space Technology and Rocketry, the competitive experimental rocketry team at UC Berkeley. The team competed in rocketry competitions like the NASA Student Launch competition and other intercollegiate rocketry competition. My time on the team taught me project management, cross team technical communication, and many technical skills related to rocketry. Many of my teammates went on to a career in aerospace. I also did a year of service under a student oriented AmeriCorps program, where I worked with liked minded students from my university and others to help members of our community.

How do you feel interning during #CountdownToMars?!

I am extremely excited about the landing! My project is related to an effort to launch aircrafts on Mars, so I am very excited to see how Ingenuity will perform on Mars. If Ingenuity is successful, it will validate many aerodynamics theories and open up more possibilities within the field.

Student uses mathematics skills to contribute to NASA’s missions

By Ramona Barajas-Villar

Women’s History Month: Recognizing some of our intern leaders 

At NASA we celebrate Women’s History Month by recognizing some of our interns and their contributions to NASA.  Meet Nazifa Taha. Nazifa is an intern at NASA Headquarters and a senior at The City College of New York where she studies Applied Mathematics. 

Meet Nazifa Taha, an intern at NASA's Headquarters.
Credits: Nazifa Taha.

Tell us about your intern journey to NASA or anything you would like to share. 

I recall that even 3 years ago, I did not know what I wanted to pursue. I was quite lost in what I wanted to become. Finally, after a lot of frustrating college semesters, I found my true passion in Mathematics. I want to see the world and understand our universe through the lens of Mathematics. With such interests in understanding our planet and what is beyond us, I took a deep dive into watching documentaries on nature, animals, and space. They helped me become more aware of how everything around me is in harmony with nature. In the summer of 2020, I asked myself “ What can be my platform to explore Earth and beyond?” The answer was right there…NASA! So, I started digging into NASA’s missions and the work that the agency does. They truly resonated with my passion. Ever since then, it became my goal to be a NASA intern. I applied for a NASA internship and NASA L’SPACE Academy for Fall 2020.I did not get an offer for a NASA internship in Fall 2020, however, I received an offer from NASA L’SPACE Academy. As a result, a part of me was disappointed but a part of me was incredibly excited as well. During my role as a student at NASA L’SPACE Academy in Fall 2020, I met a lot of people from NASA who are very passionate and driven. I worked with my fellow teammates who taught me a lot of things and gave me a profound experience on team work. The biggest lessons I learnt from this Academy were to be bold about my passion, to never give up and the values of teamwork. I took those lessons into account and applied to a NASA internship for Spring 2021. In December 2020, I can still vividly recall the moment when I read an email in my inbox which stated that I was accepted into a NASA internship project. It was a surreal moment. Even to this day, there are times when I cannot believe that I have accomplished my goal. I am deeply grateful and humbled to be a NASA intern. This experience inspires me every day in continuing to be a part of NASA and explore planet Earth and beyond. Finally, to all the people who are chasing their dreams, I would like to state “If you really want something, you’re going to have to work hard, you’ll have to take advantage of every opportunity but don’t give up” – a quote from my role model, Dr. Jane Goodall. 

What is your role on your current project?

My task in the current project is to build a standardized analysis package with my co-intern and mentors by implementing data analysis and data visualizations. The purpose of this package is to help Science Mission Directorate staff track their program statistics.

How does your project tie into the Moon To Mars mission? The Artemis program? Any other NASA mission?

My project ties into one of NASA’s core values, “inclusion”. The end product will help understand the importance of inclusion of all genders in the scientific community.

What student organization (school, community, etc.) has helped you develop professionally in your STEM/non-STEM journey?

Two student organizations that helped me develop in my STEM journey are Stanford University’s “Code in Place” Program and NASA Lucy Student Pipeline Accelerator and Competency Enabler Academy. I learned the fundamentals of programming in Python from professors at Stanford University and by collaborating with students from all over the world. As a student at NASA L’SPACE Academy, I learnt the principles of science, research, engineering and writing that go behind building a NASA mission. I also learnt the importance of teamwork.

How do you feel interning during #CountdownToMars?!

I feel over the moon to be interning at NASA during #CountdownToMars. It isn’t every semester that we send a rover to Mars and to be a part of NASA during this time is a rare privilege. This is an experience of a lifetime. I am so excited to watch the Mars Perseverance landing on February 18 as a NASA intern. I am happy that many years from now, I can tell the younger generation, “ I was a NASA intern during the count down to Mars!!”

Provide a quote about how you feel about your role at NASA.

It is very critical that women are supported in STEM because inclusion is important to be innovative and do great things together. The more minds we bring together, the more success we will all achieve together. We are all citizens of this planet and it is together that we can tackle challenges, discover new things and see prosperity. I want women to believe in themselves because I want them to see their potential to be great and that they too can reach for the stars.

It’s never too late for a career change, non-traditional intern speaks about her journey to NASA

By Ramona Barajas-Villar

Women’s History Month: Recognizing some of our intern leaders 

At NASA we celebrate Women’s History Month by recognizing some of our interns and their contributions to NASA.  Meet Sarah Smith. Sarah is an intern at Johnson Space Center and a recent graduate of the University of Washington Tacoma where she majored in Communication. 

Meet Sarah Smith. An intern at NASA's Johnson Space Center.
Credits: Sarah Smith.

Tell us about your intern journey to NASA or anything you would like to share. 

I’m a non-traditional student who returned to school later in life to change career paths, as well as finally finish my degree. My undergraduate experience was awesome and nothing short of life changing. As a student at the University of Washington Tacoma, I found my calling in science communication and media production. With the encouragement of two of my amazing professors, Bill Kunz and Cheryl Greengrove, I took on a research project to create a documentary with the UW School of Oceanography about building the Regional Cabled Observatory, part of the Ocean Observatories Initiative. As I looked toward graduation in December 2020, I wanted to find opportunities that would help me continue to learn and grow while also utilizing my skillset to contribute to something bigger than myself. I never thought I’d be working at NASA, but when I came across the opportunity to apply to be an intern, I jumped at it. I feel so lucky now to be in this position as a STEM on Station intern, and to be doing what I love – storytelling, media creation, and communicating about science and the NASA mission. I’ve already learned so much and feel so supported and valued by my STEM on Station team. This internship is truly a dream come true!

What is your role on your current project?

STEM on Station intern – communications support.

How does your project tie into the Moon To Mars mission? The Artemis program? Any other NASA mission?

STEM education and engaging students around the country in NASA missions and programs, specifically through STEMonstrations, SPOCS, Downlinks. 

How are you staying connected to other interns? NASA employees? 

I try to attend as many online events as I can to get to know others, and make sure to introduce myself to other interns and NASA employees whenever possible so they can also get to know me. I’ve connected with a few interns so far who are also non-traditional students or recent graduates, and we’ve chatted over coffee a couple times to get to know each other a bit better and begin to build a network. I also attend the “Coffee with Coordinators” meetings whenever possible to stay connected!

What student organization (school, community, etc.) has helped you develop professionally in your STEM/non-STEM journey? 

Working on campus, volunteering and taking advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow outside of the classroom is so important as an undergraduate student. While not a student organization, I worked a student job in the Advancement office on campus and hosted the school’s podcast. I learned so much in this position, and had the opportunity to conduct interviews on such interesting topics! Also, taking on an undergrad research documentary video project led to some incredible growth as a STEM communicator. It provided some really exciting out-of-the-box opportunities to learn about how technology is advancing ocean science and exploration. 

How do you feel interning during #CountdownToMars?!

It’s super exciting! I have two teenage daughters and it feels extra special to share the #CountdownToMars with them as well. We’re all looking forward to tuning in next week to watch the landing.