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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Marissa D’Alonzo: Inspiration, Education, and Learning to Love STEM at Stennis Space Center

For my entire childhood, I was a good math and science student, but thought it was boring and wanted to be a piano teacher. When my eighth grade science teacher, Mrs. Kelly, announced that she was starting a team to compete in the Team America Rocketry Challenge, I had no interest and did not attend the first meeting. The next day, she pulled me aside and said that the team needed more members and since I was an exceptional science student, I had been drafted. I went to my first meeting simply so that I wouldn’t disappoint her, fully expecting to hate it. To my surprise, I was hooked. Building the rockets didn’t seem like my tedious math and science classes, it was fun. We didn’t place in the competition, but her insistence on my participation introduced me to engineering and how enjoyable it could be.

The summer after the competition, I was accepted into a pre-college music festival. By the end of the program, my musical dreams had been shattered. The incredible amount of work needed to become a classical pianist ruined the music for me. I needed something else to focus on, so I signed up for my high school’s rocket team, hearing Mrs. Kelly in my head telling me I could do it. We were significantly better than my middle school’s team, and at the end of my freshman year, we won a spot in NASA’s Student Launch Projects. I spent my entire sophomore year designing the payload experiment and container, with the experience culminating in an amazing trip to Marshall Space Flight Center. Still, I did not see a career for myself in engineering. NASA is far from my home in New York and I still didn’t understand the full scope of STEM.

Marissa D’Alonzo and fellow interns at Stennis Space Center.

After hearing about my experience, I was approached by my physics teacher, Mr. Paino, about joining his fledgling research program. He wanted me and another team member to write a scientific report about our rocket to submit to the Siemens Science Competition. I agreed, and he dedicated massive amounts of time and energy to make sure I succeeded in the program, as well as pushing me to take his AP Physics class. His dedication to me, even when I didn’t always appreciate it or like him, helped me see that I was capable of pursuing engineering. He recommended Northeastern University to me, thinking that I would enjoy the co-op program, which builds time into the curriculum for three six-month internship opportunities. I was accepted, and am currently in my third year majoring in computer engineering.

Ever since participating in the Student Launch Project, I had been interested in working at NASA. After completing my first co-op at a small medical device company, I began seriously researching NASA for my second co-op. I was offered a position in the Office of Education at Stennis Space Center. This experience has solidified my choice of computer engineering as the field I want to go into, as well as giving me experience in both the aerospace and STEM education fields. When I return to Boston, I plan to continue my aerospace work at MIT Lincoln Labs, and my STEM education efforts through outreach to middle schoolers.

Esmarline De Leon Peralta: Looking to the Future at Ames Research Center

My name is Esmarline De León Peralta, a future physician-scientist, flight surgeon and astronaut. I am determined to be part of a group of experts and professionals that will develop key technologies for travel to and living on Mars. Furthermore, I would like to assist in developing the systems necessary to support astronauts’ and communities’ adaptability and survival in the environment on Mars. As an aspiring physician, I believe the advancements created as we continue to research what life could be like on Mars could also impact global health by providing healthcare accessibility and point-of-care technologies for both developing countries and under-developed areas.

I began to appreciate the importance of engagement, perseverance and empathy at a young age, largely due to the lack of resources and opportunities in my home country, the Dominican Republic. I grew up in a house made of tin and wood, where water and electricity were not always accessible, and even my home was not accessible during hurricane season. We moved to Puerto Rico when I was ten years old looking for better educational opportunities and a better life. My mother was denied career opportunities in the field of systems and computer engineering because her degree was obtained in a foreign country. Learning about challenges and inequalities was hard at a young age, but these experiences made me stronger and shaped me into an overachiever and passionate dreamer.

Esmarline outside her workplace at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

My journey to NASA has been one of the most inspiring challenges of my life. My immigration status affected my NASA goals but gave me the courage and inspiration to prepare and become not only a U.S. permanent resident, but an official citizen. I am a 2014 NASA Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP) scholar, for which I give thanks to Ms. Elizabeth Cartier at ARC for her encouragement and constant support throughout these years.

My NASA interests, along with my desire to address problems in health and understand how chemicals impact the biomedical engineering field made me choose a career in chemical engineering at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. Since 2012, I have had experiences researching in biologically-inspired engineering labs at universities and hospitals such as Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Georgia Institute of Technology and Ohio State University. My interest in biomedical sciences and engineering encourages me to get a M.D.-Ph.D. as a physician-scientist in bioastronautics.

Esmarline at work in a NASA ARC lab.

My passion for biomedical devices using 3-D printing was amplified after researching at Massachusetts General Hospital. When accepted at NASA, I felt that my dreams had come true and I was home where I belonged. I am currently a spring intern at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. I am working in the Entry Systems and Vehicle Development Branch with Dr. Jing Li developing ultra-light weight batteries using 3-D printing technology and nanotechnology. This cutting-edge technology will enable new power and tools for space exploration and building human habitats in space.

During the summer of 2018, I will be interning at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. I will be working with a 3-D printer identical to one currently in space, the n-Scrypt 3-D printer, supporting 3-D multi-materials and process parameters for 3-D printing and helping in the fabrication of conductive inks to print small circuits under the mentorship and guidance of Mr. Curtis Hill.

Thank you, NASA, for being my dream, my present and my future. Here is where I belong! I cannot be more grateful. I have no words to express the happiness of my heart to represent minorities, Hispanics, women in STEM and the next generation of Mars and beyond planets’ explorers. God’s faithfulness last forever. Psalm 100:5