Research on Plants in Space Leads to Law Degree

‘Not only did I feel supported at all times, but I also felt encouraged to pursue my passions.’ Josie Pechous worked at NASA Kennedy Space Center as a Bioinformatics for Space Crop Production intern. Photo credit: (NASA /Josie Pechous).
‘Not only did I feel supported at all times, but I also felt encouraged to pursue my passions.’ Josie Pechous worked at NASA Kennedy Space Center as a Bioinformatics for Space Crop Production intern. Photo credit: (NASA /Josie Pechous).

As spaceflight exploration ventures deeper into our solar system, astronauts will need a fresh, sustainable food source to maintain health and wellness. Understanding how plants are affected in spaceflight enables researchers to optimize growing conditions for peak nutritional value and harvest index,’ Josie Pechous said.

While at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Josie worked as a Bioinformatics for Space Crop Production Intern. She compared transcriptomes of previous plant spaceflight missions to identify any genes or signaling pathways that may be useful for future successful space crop production. She began her internship researching spaceflight-induced stressors on the human body. With an interest in plants and nutrition, Josie sought information on how the right diet can boost astronaut health, performance, and wellbeing.

Josie also composed a literature review on microgreens: small, nutrient-dense plants requiring little horticultural demands. She highlighted their nutritional composition, growing conditions, and potential for sustaining life on long-range spaceflight missions to supplement the pre-packaged spaceflight diet.

Mentorship was integral in making Josie’s internship a rewarding experience. Christina M. Johnson assigned a project that worked with Josie’s career goals and encouraged her to direct research to areas that matched her interests.

‘Focusing on a subject that I was passionate about while supporting NASA objectives was such a gratifying experience. Further gratifying has been the continued connection between me and my mentor post-internship. Although over a year has passed . . . my mentor continues to support me,’ Josie said.

The first growth test of crops in the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) aboard the International Space Station. The APH is a growth chamber on station for plant research. It uses LED lights and a porous clay substrate with controlled release fertilizer to deliver water, nutrients and oxygen to the plant roots. Photo credit: (NASA/International Space Station).
The first growth test of crops in the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) aboard the International Space Station. The APH is a growth chamber on station for plant research. It uses LED lights and a porous clay substrate with controlled release fertilizer to deliver water, nutrients and oxygen to the plant roots. Photo credit: (NASA/International Space Station).

After Josie’s internship, her research was incorporated into a scientific article, ‘Large-Scale Crop Production for the Moon and Mars: Current Gaps and Future Perspectives.’ She recently attended the American Society for Gravitation and Space Research annual conference and presented on the advantages of microgreen carotenoid composition for space travel.

Josie completed her degree at Drake University in biochemistry and cell and molecular biology. She now studies at Vermont Law School, pursuing food and agriculture law and policy for a sustainable future.

Interested in becoming a member of the 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 ten things you can do now to prepare for a NASA Internship.

Claire A. O’Shea / NASA Johnson Space Center

Intern Hopes to Research the Neurological Health of Astronauts During Missions

‘It has been unlike any other time in my life. I wish I had known before my internship that every chance you don’t take is an opportunity lost. I could never have anticipated what I experienced this summer.’’ Sewall interns at NASA’s Langley Research Center. Photo credit: (NASA/Michaela Sewall).
‘It has been unlike any other time in my life. I wish I had known before my internship that every chance you don’t take is an opportunity lost. I could never have anticipated what I experienced this summer.’’ Sewall interns at NASA’s Langley Research Center. Photo credit: (NASA/Michaela Sewall).

As a freshly graduated high school senior with little technical experience in the field, Michaela Sewall contacted Chad Stephens and Dr. Alan Pope, research scientists at NASA’s Langley Research Center (LRC), after reading their published paper on  bio-cybernetic adaptation strategies for human operators interacting with machines or computers.

Curiosity

Michaela was curious about engineering, brain function, physics, space, and medicine — but she was uncertain on how to piece together these areas of study. After landing an internship at NASA’s LRC, she began working on psycho-physiological research for autonomous aviation in the In-Time System-Wide Safety Assurance as part of NASA’s Aeronautics Airspace Operations and Safety Program.

Interning virtually this past summer, Michaela drove to her father’s office in the morning and worked from his conference room. She would set up her Raspberry Pi, a small computer used to learn programming, and biosensors to conduct her research throughout each day.

The Study

‘Everyone is so willing to help and answer any questions you have.’ Michaela studies electrical engineering and neurobiology at Washington University in St. Louis as an undergraduate sophomore. Photo credit: (NASA / Michaela Sewall).
‘Everyone is so willing to help and answer any questions you have.’ Michaela studies electrical engineering and neurobiology at Washington University in St. Louis as an undergraduate sophomore. Photo credit: (NASA / Michaela Sewall).

She directed a study, ‘Investigating the Effects of Passive and Adaptive Bio-Cybernetic Two Dimensional and Virtual Reality Stimulus on Psychophysiological and Cognitive State Reactions,’ and coordinated a team of advocates to communicate complex engineering concepts to non-engineers.

‘It has been unlike any other time in my life. I wish I had known before my internship that every chance you don’t take is an opportunity lost.’

Goals

With goals to become a neuroengineer with a background in electrical engineering, neuroscience, and medicine, Michaela’s career aspirations involve researching the neurological, psychophysiological, and biological health of the astronauts before, during, and after their missions.

‘I have had the opportunity to speak to flight surgeons and center directors all because I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and asked for a few minutes of their time. Everyone is so willing to help and answer any questions you have.’

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. 

Claire A. O’Shea / NASA Johnson Space Center

From Star Ceiling Stickers to Mission Design- Lauren Daniels

A picture of NASA Intern Lauren Daniels
‘Boulder is my favorite town on the planet.’ Lauren Daniels pictured on the Lost Gulch Park overlook in Boulder, Colorado. Lauren attends the University of Colorado Boulder as an engineering student. ‘I was determined that a career in STEM would be the right fit for me so I decided on aerospace engineering. This made the University of Colorado Boulder the obvious choice when it came time to pick a school. I couldn’t have made a better decision.’ Photo credit: (NASA/Lauren Daniels).

Lauren Daniels’ interest in space first started when she was a child. In elementary school, her bedroom was adorned with themes of space, complete with ‘glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling’ and posters from a neighbor that had presented about space to her entire first grade class. At the age of 6, Lauren attended a space camp and was selected as commander for the mock base in a simulation mission of ‘lunar explorers.’

Fast forward to high school, she was captivated by math, science, and astronomy, and was third in her class upon graduation. Lauren decided to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering.

NASA Intern Laruen Daniels in front of the flag of the United States and NASA's flag.
‘From the moment I heard the word, I knew I wanted to be an astronaut.’ Lauren Daniels at her NASA Pathways internship headshot photoshoot. Photo credit: (NASA/ Lauren Daniels).

Her intern journey began when she first worked on Orion Spacecraft with Lockheed Martin: the exploration vehicle that will carry human crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.

‘This experience strengthened my love of all things NASA, and encouraged me to apply for the Pathways Internship Program. I didn’t get in the first time I applied, but I kept applying as often as I could, and eventually I was accepted.’

As an intern at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Lauren works on mission design insight for the Human Landing System (HLS). She runs a trade study that analyzes different times and places that humans could land on the moon, updates the flight plan to match the latest designs, and creates a tool to analyze lighting and communication availability on various landing trajectories.

A concept illustration of SpaceX Starship Human Landing System (HLS).
Illustration of SpaceX Starship Human Landing System (HLS) design that will carry the first NASA astronauts to the surface of the Moon under the Artemis program. Illustration credit: (SpaceX/NASA).

Many students still have some misconceptions when it comes to applying for a NASA internship. We’re here to change that. Take a look at the article to read five common myths debunked from our interns. 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.

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

NASA Interns Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Guess what we are celebrating? Across the agency, NASA is proud to commemorate National Hispanic Heritage Month, the annual observance honoring the cultures and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans. At NASA, we celebrate the countless and enduring impacts Hispanics and Latinos have made at NASA and beyond. As scientists and engineers driving innovation and technology, entrepreneurs energizing our economy, advocates leading social and political change, and creatives bringing to life our arts and humanities, NASA recognizes the value of diversity and inclusion and the need for the continuation of change.

Hear from our current interns on their experiences as Hispanics at NASA and their advice to current and potential applicants.

Laura Paulino, Montclair State University

“Being Hispanic at NASA means working to ensure a voice and a place in the future for an underrepresented and underprivileged community. It means doing this with the joy, diversity, and good food that we share across our cultures.

I grew up in the most impoverished province in the Dominican Republic. I think about my privilege as someone who has been given the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and trauma. Whenever I feel like I can’t do something, I think about all the people back home who were never given the options and opportunities that I have. When I can’t face my fears for myself, then I do it for them. Our decisions are so much bigger than ourselves,” Paulino said.

Laura Paulino interns with NASA Ames Research Center and studies at Montclair State University as a graduate student. She encourages the Artemis Generation to stay inspired knowing that their work will save the planet.

Yesenia Sanchez, Columbia University

“Diversity in ideas and how to approach problems is what is most valuable. This allows us to solve problems differently and value ideas that diverge from our own but work towards a greater good. Representation can only get us so far, what we need is to be listening and working with each other.

I especially want to advise non-STEM students to take a shot at an internship. NASA is so much more than just engineers; it is also historians and archivists working hard to preserve NASA’s legacy. This has been one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as an intern. I also say to keep trying and not be disappointed if your first time applying is not successful,” Sanchez said.

Yesenia Sanchez interns with the history team at NASA Headquarters. She studies International and World History at the London School of Economics at Columbia University.

Andrea Lastra, University of Houston

“It’s incredible to think that just 12 years ago, a 9-year-old me came into this country without knowing English and not knowing exactly what she wanted to do when she ‘grew up’.  After years of constant hard work, setbacks, and dreaming about the future, I finally made it to NASA! I am proud and happy to be an Engineer, to be a NASA Intern, and most importantly, to be Hispanic,” Lastra said.

Andrea Lasta interns at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center and studies mechanical engineering at the University of Houston. She wants potential applicants to know that interning at NASA is attainable. Once you get over the hurdle of not feeling good enough, anything you set your mind to is possible.

Gabriel A. Colon Sanchez,  University of Puerto Rico

“Being Hispanic at NASA shows how diverse the world is. It proves that we are all part of a bigger community where we encourage each other to become better people. It feels amazing to represent my country and my people in such great experiences.

For students like me who saw this as a dream, believe in yourself and work hard. Join clubs and participate in whatever activities you can! Every experience moves us forward in our careers. Try to become a leader in your community and inspire others,” Colon Sanchez said.

Colon Sanchez interns at NASA Stennis Space Center and studies software engineering at the University of Puerto Rico.

Mia Belle Frothingham, Harvard University                         

“It means getting to be exactly who I am with my colleagues and being able to include my culture and values through my work and contribution at NASA. I love meeting other Hispanic co-workers; it reminds me to celebrate what makes us and our community beautiful!

Never give up. It takes immense determination and dedication to achieve big things in life, failures or rejections should never put you down. Pursue what you love, find your passion and follow it,” Frothingham said.

Mia Belle Frothingham interns at NASA Headquarters and studies biology at Harvard University.

Cindy Valdez, Los Angeles City College

“Don’t let fear, judgment, lack of representation, or lack of support stop you from following your passions and dreams. Get involved in competitions and professional organizations to narrow down your major concentration and career path.

Don’t ignore opportunities to work in a group, as this will expose you to the soft skills that are often overlooked: interacting with different personalities, leveraging talent, learning from other perspectives, negotiating, or resolving differences.

There is no set formula that you can emulate to obtain an internship at NASA. Take the route less traveled and start believing in yourself; soon both your path and new opportunities will unfold. There is no need to chase a NASA internship. It will come to you,” Valdez said.

Cindy Valdez interns at NASA Ames Research Center and studies aerospace engineering at the Los Angeles City College.

No matter where you come from or what you are studying, you too can reach for the stars.  Spring internship applications open the first day of October, apply at intern.nasa.gov. If you’re looking for more information on Hispanic Heritage Month, check out the NASA page.

Waryn R. Flavell

Claire A. O’Shea

 

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.

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.

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.

From studying engineering to working on rovers that will land on other planets

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.  Karen Mae Baldonado. Karen is an intern at NASA’s Langley Research Center and a senior at the City College of New York where she studies Mechanical Engineering. 

Meet Karen Mae Baldonado, an intern at NASA's Langley Research Center.
Credits: Karen Mae Baldonado.

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

Throughout my academic career, I wasn’t sure what sector I wanted to go into after college. I was always interested in space as a kid, but as I got older it seemed like having a career in space was out of reach. I didn’t know any women in the space sector, let alone any women in engineering careers. As I was looking for internships in my senior year of Mechanical Engineering, with no prior internship or even job experience, I decided to take a chance and apply to NASA, not expecting anything but knowing I tried. I was surprised to end up with offers to two different NASA internships! I work everyday in school and in my NASA internship to make sure the work I am doing is the best possible work I can do, for NASA and the communities I represent- women in STEM, my school the City College of New York, and women of color. More than anything I want more women in STEM and more women in NASA. I want to make sure by excelling in my engineering major and interning at NASA, that not only do I create a path for younger women to follow, but that there will be younger women to follow. I want more women in STEM to see their worth and go after what they really want, like I did.

What is your role on your current project?

I study Entry, Descent, and Landing on different planetary bodies for entry vehicles, focusing on a rover that uses tensegrity. This rover is designed by my mentor and team. For EDL, I conduct different simulations to examine the system analyses of the rover. My work focuses especially on Titan and Mars.

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

My work for this project is able to determine different system modules for Entry, Descent, and Landing on any planetary body. It can be applied to the Moon or Mars. For my project, one of the planets I focus especially on is Mars. Furthermore, a rover that uses tensegrity is ideal for entering planetary bodies with higher risks, such as a rougher surface or atmospheric conditions that aren’t ideal, as the design of the rover allows any way of landing to be an optimal position. The rover is able to adjust itself to any surface, able to go over big craters for example, and thus is a possible rover for future missions to further planetary bodies or the Moon and Mars. 

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

I joined PAXC on Discord and Teams and enjoy learning about others through the discussions on Discord. I also join the Networking sessions hosted by Langley Research Center’s Intern Coordinators.

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

The Society of Women Engineers in my school City College of New York played a big role in my STEM journey. Their meetings contain a lot of valuable lessons and information. Their greatest contribution to my STEM journey is their meetings where they brought people who have worked or work with NASA. I’ve learned from past NASA interns and current NASA employees. Hearing about their stories is what pushed me to apply to NASA in the first place. Being around other women engineers with big aspirations also greatly contributed to my STEM journey. My school’s American Society of Mechanical Engineering club also greatly helped me develop professionally in my STEM journey. ASME has taught me not only about Solidworks and Computational Fluid Dynamics lessons that I haven’t learned in class, but also the “how-to’s” of internships, interviews, and jobs. Their lessons were especially helpful for my NASA applications and interview!

How do you feel interning during #CountdownToMars?!

Interning during the #CountdownToMars has brought an experience I couldn’t get elsewhere. I’m not just someone who happens to be alive during this event, but I’m someone who actually gets to hear from the people who worked on Perseverance and NASA directly. NASA has held events for their interns to learn about the work put into Perseverance. I’m getting a chance I couldn’t get elsewhere or at any other time and I’m extremely grateful for that!

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

At NASA, I feel like I belong regardless of my identity. I know I’m here because of what I have achieved and because of my passion to work at NASA. The work I am doing is important and is not just busywork. At NASA, I’m learning so much from my project but also by asking questions, never feeling scared to show I don’t know something. One of my greatest hopes is that my work here as an intern will inspire younger women to go towards a career in STEM.

NASA Opens the Door for Multiple Projects

Meet Dayana Contreras, an AFRC intern for fall 2019 and spring 2020. Photo credit: NASA AFRC/ Lauren Hughes and Ken Ulbrich.

Hello world, my name is Dayana Contreras and I’m an AFRC intern. I started my first internship in the fall 2019. I was very surprised when I got the offer, I couldn’t believe it; I didn’t even drop my fall classes until the day after orientation. I kept thinking I would get to the gate and they were going to tell me it was all a big mistake. My dream of working for NASA had finally come true. Having the privilege to be able to come in the center and see the amazing things they did was a reward itself. I felt so small walking past all the aircraft, SOFIA is one of the most amazing airplanes I have ever witnessed.

Dayana works on the PRADTL-3c. Photo credit: NASA AFRC/ Lauren Hughes and Ken Ulbrich.

My first project was Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Lower Drag (PRADTL-3c). I helped with the mass property testing, such as center of gravity and moment of inertia. I was also in charge of data collection and analysis using the mathematical models I created. I got the opportunity to do a lot of hands on testing. This was a great internship, and I got to bond with my teammates as well as my mentor, Oscar Murillo. I felt I got to know many people around the center and got to learn the dynamics as well. This center has a great small-town feel – everyone smiles and says hi to you and they are so willing to help and want to see you succeed, it is so welcoming.

My second internship was in the spring 2020. My project was working with National Aeronautics and Space Administration Design and Analysis of Rotorcraft (NDARC). Being the first intern assigned to this project gave me an insight on what this center is about – research. I learned to be patient and to work alone. It really gave the phrase slowly but surely a true meaning. I was very lucky to have had a great mentor, Jason Lechniak, by my side helping me get through the issues I encountered. I learned so much from him I am very grateful for the opportunity and trust he placed in me.

Dayana poses next to the PRADTL-3c wing. Photo credit: NASA AFRC/ Lauren Hughes and Ken Ulbrich.

My advice for future interns is to stay focused but have fun at the same time. Enjoy the internship and everything the center has to offer. Take classes, go to meetings and lunch and learn sessions. Attend talks and events. Get to know people; a smile can lead to a conversation. This center has so many things to offer and this is the opportunity of a lifetime, make the best of it! Remember you are not expected to know everything, but you are expected to do your best to try to figure out a solution to your problem.