Credit: Credit: Lunar and Planetary Institute

Houston, we have an internship!

Elisha Jhoti reports on her time as a NASA Summer Intern in Houston, US.

I have always been interested in space exploration and research, in the way it pushes technological boundaries and merges many different disciplines. This is why I chose to study Astrophysics on a five year integrated Masters program at the University of Edinburgh.

This summer I was lucky enough to be accepted onto the Lunar & Planetary Institute’s (LPI)/NASA Summer Intern Program in Houston, in the U.S. There were 15 of us on the program who had been chosen out of 1500 applicants, and I was one of only two non-US citizens. This was the second consecutive year that I had applied for the program, when I was initially rejected I hoped it was because of my lack of research experience, so I sought out research elsewhere and re-applied for this year, and I managed to get in!

The Lunar & Planetary Institute was first formally founded in 1968 in order to help analyse the wealth of lunar data produced by NASA’s Apollo program. Now its research extends to every planetary body, including Pluto, and it is regarded as a leader in planetary science.

The intern program involves working one on one with a research scientist at LPI or NASA Johnson Space Centre on a planetary science project. At the end of the summer we wrote up our research as an abstract and gave presentations to some of the foremost experts in the field who are at LPI.

Having the chance to come to Houston to a centre of excellence in the field was incredible. My project involved using NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s LAMP instrument, which stands for Lyman Alpha Mapping Project, a far-UV spectrograph that is currently orbiting the Moon. I used data from LAMP to look at cold spots on the Moon as well as impact craters. This will help us understand the space weathering process on the Moon and could help with future manned missions there. The insight that I gained this summer into the way NASA research is carried out has set me up to pursue my career goals of one day working there, as well as improving my skills as a scientist which will aid me enormously as I plan to pursue a PhD in planetary science.

As well as the research experience, the internship program took us on several tours at NASA Johnson Space Centre to visit various departments. This was a dream come true for me, I have always dreamt of working for NASA but getting to be there and experience the innovation and passion first hand was a once in a lifetime opportunity, especially as a non-US citizen. We were lucky enough to visit the Robotics Laboratory where we met Robonaut, who helps astronauts on-board the International Space Station (ISS); the Space Vehicle Mock-Up Facility that has exact replicas of ISS modules that the astronauts use to train on, as well as the meteorite laboratory where we saw real space rocks recovered from Antarctica. We also saw the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, which houses a huge swimming pool with another mock-up of the ISS for astronauts to train underwater, simulating microgravity. And finally we got to see and climb about in the Lunar Electric Rover and Space Exploration Vehicle, which are NASA’s prototypes for astronauts to drive around in for their upcoming manned Moon missions.

This summer has been an incredible experience for me and has definitely inspired me to pursue a career in space exploration, before this my goal of working at NASA seemed impossible and far away. But now I’ve learnt that with the right experience and perseverance, anyone can excel in the field and achieve their goals. Especially due to the interdisciplinary nature of space, whether you’re an engineer, an economist, a geologist, a lawyer, a biologist, or anything in between there’s something in the space industry for everyone.

Photo credits: Lunar and Planetary Institute.


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