2013 NASA Interns Share Experiences

The California Space Grant Consortium provided eight NASA internship scholarships to California Space Grant students in Summer 2013.  These students were able to participate in real world research projects and gain valuable experience far beyond the classroom. We are pleased to introduce these students, along with a short summary of how this experience has enriched and impacted their academic careers:

Alexandra Pogue, UC San Diego

Project: Tensegrity Robotics

This past summer I worked in the Intelligent Robotics Group, at the NASA Ames Research Center; Vytas SunSpiral was my mentor.  My work was in tensegrity robotics, I worked on a robot called DuCTT: Duct Climbing Tetrahedral Tensegrity.  Tensegrity robots are compliant, consisting of rods suspended in a network of cables.  In a system where the rods solely undergo compression forces and the cables’ tensioning forces, the lack of bending moments on the system means that it can have very high strength to weight rations, among other important advantages.  DuCTT is an interpretation of tensegrity consisting of two tetrahedral frames connected by eight cables.  It has the ability to move in four degrees of freedom, and is purposed for the exploration of remote and confined spaces.

The project was a phenomenal learning experience for me because it brought me through the steps of research from concept to realization. This entailed the connection of theory to application in many stages of the project, such as when assessing feasibility in design, determining realistic parameters for a physics simulation, and choosing the right hardware to use.  It also gave me the opportunity to use valuable software in design and animation, learn coding language in the physics simulation, and have a better understanding of fabrication and assembly methods in the build of the robot.  Once the robot was built, I learned how to systematically approach the analysis of our system.  Finally, collaborating with my teammate and writing a conference paper that was submitted to the International Conference for Robotics and Automation (ICRA) helped me learn the process of compiling all of the data acquired and relating our research in the form of a formal paper.

Noelle Oguri, UC Davis

Project :   Improvement of OVERSMART Flow Simulation Reporting Software

This past summer, I interned at the NASA Ames facility with the supercomputing division. Here, I worked on improving and augmenting the OVERSMART software, which displays fluid simulation data in a compact, easy to read format. Working at NASA was a great experience. Not only did I learn a lot of technical level details, which I know will serve me well, but I also learned skills that you can’t learn through tutorials – skills like how to coordinate working with multiple people, how to break a large task into manageable sub-tasks, and how to prioritize tasks in order to use my time most efficiently. My mentors gave me guidance and encouragement, but they also gave me a lot of freedom in choosing how to best improve OVERSMART. I was able to contribute to the design process rather than simply be told exactly how things should look, which made this project feel like it was truly mine. The ten weeks of my internship passed far too quickly, but I left NASA knowing much more than I did coming in, and with much more confidence in my own abilities.

Darren Sholes, Cal Poly–San Luis Obispo

Project:  Low Cost Concentrating Solar Power Systems: Design and Analysis

Funding from the California Space Grant Consortium gave me the opportunity to work on a project that I was truly passionate about.  It was extremely rewarding to be able to apply the knowledge and skills that I’ve gained at the university level to an actual project at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Every day I was challenged.  I was given meaningful tasks and I felt like my contributions were taken seriously.  I gained lifelong mentors and friends, and established a strong network for the future.  This experience has enhanced my confidence in my professional and academic abilities and inspired me to pursue a career in research at one of the many national laboratories.

Samira Motiwala, Stanford University

Project:  Conceptual Launch Vehicle and Spacecraft Design for Risk Assessment Architecture Studies

NASA continues to inspire me to follow my passion for astronautics and space systems, and my previous experience with the Space Academy has only strengthened my desire to be a NASA engineer.  This internship will provide me the opportunity to learn from the best and brightest in the field who are a part of the growing space community and share the same love of space technology and exploration.  Moreover, the projects will complement my research interests at Stanford and enable me to apply knowledge from many years of engineering training.  Each opportunity at NASA brings a unique experience to the table that allows me to grow professionally, academically, and personally, and this puts me one step closer towards my dream of becoming an astronaut.

N. Danny Suppanade, CSU Los Angeles

Project:  APV-3

My experience at Dryden Flight Research Center has definitely impacted my life for the better and is something that will stay with me forever.  Being around so many aircraft and hearing them fly overhead everyday was the best and most inspirational working atmosphere that anyone could ask for.  Working for NASA I was able to apply the knowledge that I had worked so hard on for the last few years in a real-world environment on a real project.  This has left me with an unparalleled feeling of accomplishment knowing that I am able to actually do something real with what I have learned in the classroom.  Nothing beats seeing an aircraft that you’ve worked on fly and similarly, my experience at NASA is like seeing my education soar into the air, where the sky is the limit.

Jeffrey Friesen, UC San Diego

Project:  DuCTT: A Tensegrity Robot for Exploring Duct Systems

Being able to intern at NASA Ames was an incredible experience for me. I learned more in three months at Ames than a year’s worth of work at UCSD. Due to the highly interdisciplinary nature of robotics, I was able to work with, teach and learn from many other extremely intelligent students within the Intelligent Robotics Group who all had very different approaches to solving the problems posed by Tensegrity Robotics. For instance, there were two computer science PhD students from Belgium and Turkey, as well as a physics PhD from France and a mechatronics PhD from Santa Cruz, and when we would sit down to discuss possible design solutions for a given problem, each of us would have a very different conception of how best to solve the problem. Often these different views could be combined in innovative ways and we would end up with a design which was better than any of our ideas standing alone. While this is common to most design teams it was dramatically emphasized by the educational and cultural differences within our team at NASA. Exposure to these different ideas was also an awesome learning experience for me as they are things I never would have seen if I stayed within the mechanical engineering department at my own university, and I have no doubt some of these ideas will prove useful to the designs of myself or others within the Coordinated Robotics Lab at UCSD. Furthermore, it has motivated me to continue pursuing research opportunities external to my own research group at UCSD, so that I may increase my collaboration with interdisciplinary students.

Eric Gutierrez, Stanford University

Project:  Application of Parameter Estimation to Stability and Control of the PRANDTL-D Flying Wing Aircraft

I am currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University.  My experience as a NASA Academy Intern at NASA Dryden has had a positive impact on my academic career. My work at NASA dealt with studying the flight characteristics of a flying wing aircraft.  The aircraft was constructed to duplicate the aerodynamic shape of soaring birds. Working on a project that could have significant benefits for aerial vehicles and bring insight into the secrets of bird flight has left me with more confidence, a high degree of knowledge, and a skill set that will make me a better researcher and engineer.  This experience has given me valuable insight that I will carry with me for the rest of my life: always have an open mind when it comes to new ideas, and never let your imagination get constrained by assumptions.  I look forward to serving as an inspiration to others and sharing my experiences.

Paula Adhikari, University of Southern California

Project: Cold Atomic Laboratory (CAL)

I cannot express in words how amazing it has been to work for NASA JPL.  It has been my dream to work at NASA ever since I visited the Kennedy Space Center when I was in middle school, and it was a surreal experience to finally have the opportunity to do so.  I was very nervous when I first arrived, but everyone that I was working with was so great and helpful, and I immediately began learning so much.  My project, the Cold Atomic Laboratory, is a facility in which scientists hope to create and observe ultra-cold quantum gases utilizing lasers and atom chip technology.  The project will be located inside the International Space Station on an EXPRESS Rack and will be accessible to the astronauts on board.  The goal is to create a Bose Einstein Condensate (BEC) of chilled atoms that our team will then image to study the wave-like properties of the atoms.  What immediately hit me when I began working was that I would have the opportunity to help with something that would actually be going to space!  I was involved with systems engineering and magnetic modeling with the project, and have learned so much.  I was directly involved with the processes of creating and refining requirements for the project, which act as a backbone for the project.  I was also able to gain valuable modeling and CAD experience.  I came out of the summer with a whole new realization and appreciation for NASA JPL and the CAL project.  In order to get something functional into space, it truly requires a full team effort, and I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of it.