Part of the mission at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, is to ‘pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.’
That is exactly what two aerospace engineering students from Iowa State had the opportunity to experience this past summer while serving as interns for the agency.
For Michaela Antolak and Matthew Thompson, seniors in aerospace engineering, being accepted into NASA’s internship program was a lifelong dream come true.
“When I was young I attended space camp twice, once as a mission controls pilot and once as a mission specialist,” recalls Antolak. “I knew I was too short to be an astronaut, but I chose to study aerospace engineering with the hope of someday working for NASA’s space program.”
Antolak sent the summer working on a Treadmill with Vibration Isolation and Stabilization (TVIS) project in the Engineering Directorate. Although NASA employed her, Antolak was placed at Jacobs Technology, serving as a contractor for NASA.
“My main responsibility was to start the TVIS project retirement process as Russia is building its own treadmill to replace TVIS,” says Antolak. “I helped write and perform task performance sheets and discrepancy reports, and assisted with anything related to the project. I also got to run and walk on the TVIS Trainer, which is the treadmill astronauts train on.”
Antolak spent two days in the Mission Evaluation Room, which is similar to mission control but for engineers. While there, she supported her project while it was on-orbit in the event that something went wrong. Because her assistance became an integral part of the operation, Antolak was asked to extend her time there for an addition two weeks.
Much like Antolak, Thompson enjoyed getting a taste of life at NASA as well.
“I have always wanted to work with things relating to space,” says Thompson. “When I was young I was that kid who wanted to build a spaceship and go to Mars or Pluto, the furthest thing away from earth I knew of at the time. After speaking with people and doing some research, I discovered that aerospace engineering would be the perfect fit.”
Thompson was selected to work for an engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center at Chesapeake Bay in Hampton, Virginia.
“I spent the summer working on an acquisition, tracking, and pointing toolset for my mentor,” says Thompson. “These tools will eventually be used to develop equipment to test a new telescope and star tracker.”
His primary responsibility was to develop programming for the toolset, including the main piece of the system that takes a photo of the sun to find the center of it. The operator can then adjust the camera accordingly to keep the telescope targeted on the sun while exploring other stars.
As the first internship experience for Thompson and Antolak, both feel an opportunity like this is well worthwhile and will benefit them immensely in the future.
Antolak is using the knowledge and skill she has gained to propel her into yet another exciting experience, an internship with Southwest Airlines this semester. In addition, Thompson expects his time at NASA will help him pursue his goals in higher education.
“When looking at jobs I now have work experience and something to talk about at the career fair or in a job interview,” explains Thompson. “After graduation I plan to go on to graduate school, and with this internship I will have the knowledge and references to do so.”