Interning at NASA
By Tia Rawat
Last year I discovered a deep interest of mine: space. It all began at school one day when my friend and I were discussing light pollution, which is the presence of artificial light at night. After learning about how it could harm the environment, ecosystems, and even human health, we were fascinated and wanted to learn more about this mysterious topic. During lunch, we went to our school’s planetarium where the planetarium director was more than happy to help. She dimmed the lights and the entire room glowed with life as the walls shifted from time lapses of the night sky to baby sea turtles getting lost to big cities flooded with street lights. Speechless, we learned about the global impacts of light pollution - confusing animals, interfering with telescopes, linking to higher risks of cancer - all in the span of 15 minutes. Soon, lunches at the planetarium became daily and my flickering interest in space quickly transformed into a dedicated passion, leading me to apply for a NASA Internship.
Getting a NASA Internship was exhilarating. I was excited beyond words after seeing the email of acceptance and for having the opportunity of a lifetime. But I became slightly upset once I learned about a major change: because of the pandemic, the internship would be virtual. As someone who flourishes from hands-on experiences, research didn’t sound as fun as the interactive, immersive experience I was anticipating. However, these feelings didn’t last long as we dove into the project: creating recommendations for NASA on how to respond to the impact of COVID-19 on airlines. My disappointment washed away and I became thrilled— helping guide NASA’s decisions in the middle of a pandemic?? Are you kidding?! As someone who aspired to be a pilot, I guess you could say I enjoy being in control.
I worked with a team of four students in California to create some sort of presentation to deliver to NASA directors at the end of our internship. We decided on a website and I put my graphic design skills to the test. After weeks of intensive research, we developed a 40 page report, a 40 slide presentation, and a draft of the website.
Throughout this process, there were a few ups and downs. First, we found out the report was too long and had to be cut down to half its size: 20 pages. We explored every loophole possible before painfully removing weeks of effort to shorten the report. It was also incredibly difficult working virtually and making sure everyone did their part, leading to stressful all-nighters spent working and some conflicts within the team.
However, in the end, the pros far outweighed the cons as we grew closer as a team. We completed our significant task and became friends in the process. Alongside our project, we had zoom lectures on fascinating topics including the astronaut selection process, the mission to Mars, SOFIA (an astronomical observatory located on a plane), the exploration of ocean planets, electrified aircraft propulsion (new flight concepts that can reduce carbon emissions) and much, much more. I heard from inspirational leaders: astronauts, engineers, mission directors, and even NASA headquarters. I was constantly inspired, empowered, and fulfilled by every aspect of the internship and at the incredible opportunity to live out my dream.
The presentation was a huge success, leaving a powerful impact on NASA and the course of its future actions. It felt amazing to see all our hard work pay off and to truly make a difference. My advice? Next time you have a random question, act on it because you never know where it might take you. It might take you to the stars!
Ginger Kerrick- She did a zoom about how she became a NASA Flight director during the internship, and she’s a huge inspiration- in case anyone’s looking for inspo and insight on how you can become a part of NASA her story is super unique. She had a super low GPA in college, originally wanted to play pro b-ball, and had to deal with loss growing up yet she became a huge success at NASA.
My name is Tia Rawat and I’m a senior at Rock Bridge High School in Columbia, MO. This past summer I interned virtually at NASA Ames in Mountain View, CA. I worked in the Aviation Systems Division, researching the COVID-19 impact on aviation. I worked with a team of high school students living in Bay Area, CA; Andres Carranza, Ximena Ramirez, Minju O’Rourke, and Yusuf Jarada. Together, we created a comprehensive report, COVID-19 predictive and counterfactual models, a website detailing our research, and a presentation listing recommendations to guide NASA in supporting aviation throughout the devastating pandemic.