Ashley, meet Robonaut 2. Robonaut 2, meet Ashley.
As a participant in NASA's Undergraduate Student Research Project, Ashley Allman was involved in the Robonaut 2 project at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Specifically, Allman helped develop a program that would keep NASA's humanlike robot and astronauts on the space station safe from hazardous commands. Allman met and shook hands with a research version of the Robonaut 2 that is now on the International Space Station.
In which NASA student opportunity projects did you participate, and how did you get involved in them?
Under the guidance of my high school career counselor, Jon Morrow, I participated in the 2008 Washington Aerospace Scholar program my junior year. When I came across the National Community College Aerospace Scholar program my first year of college, I recognized that it was similar to the Washington Aerospace Scholar program. I was accepted into the National Community College Aerospace Scholar program, and we traveled to NASA's Johnson Space Center for a three-day on-site event. At the conclusion of the event, we were introduced to multiple programs to apply through for internships at NASA. I applied through the Undergraduate Student Research Project for internships at Johnson Space Center. I feel that participating in Washington Aerospace Scholars and National College Aerospace Scholars were very important in my selection for a USRP internship.
Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement, and why this topic is important.
During the internship, I developed a Command Check program for Robonaut 2. This tool will be utilized during the initial boot-up of R2 on the ISS. Before any commands are sent to the R2 during boot-up, they are first checked through the Command Check program to ensure that no hazardous commands are sent to R2. This program is crucial to ensure that in the process of manually typing commands, no hazardous commands are sent to the ISS where they could be harmful to R2 and the crew members.
What has been the most exciting part of your research?
One particularly exciting experience I had was meeting and interacting with Robonaut 2. The technology that sits within the walls at NASA is astounding! Prior to coming to NASA, I didn’t know that there were robots like this being developed yet. As I shook R2's hand, I was amazed at how delicately he grasped my hand in return. It was explained to me that Robonaut grasps your hand with the same amount of force that you apply to his when shaking it. His movement is so fluid and smooth. I was so amused that I insisted on shaking his hand three times!
I would have to say that the most exciting part of my research here at NASA is the knowledge that my project will be used on a payload aboard the International Space Station. That is a very rewarding feeling.
What is your educational background and what are your future educational plans?
I attended numerous community colleges in Washington state throughout high school. I completed my Associate of Science degree at Seattle Central Community College in spring 2010. I will be attending Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott campus, fall of 2011. While at Embry Riddle, I plan to earn a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering with a minor in physics.
What inspired you to choose the education/career field you did?
I have always enjoyed the challenges of math and science. Combining this with my love for aviation and aerospace, I discovered that aerospace engineering would be the most rewarding career I could hope for. Working through high school and college at a small airport, I enjoyed spending time on the line and handling the aircraft and learning about them. To know that one day I will help design these aircraft and even spacecraft pushes me to achieve this goal.
What do you think will be the most important things you'll take away from your involvement with NASA?
Working in a professional 8-to-5 environment has taught me a lot about what to expect from the workforce. Being a student, it is hard to imagine a life where there aren't assignments to be completed nights and weekends (most of the time). It took coworkers reminding me to "keep work at work" to realize this. This professional environment not only taught me better communication skills and to work well with others, it also inspires me to put the extra effort into the remainder of my education so that I can end up working at NASA when I graduate.
What are your future plans?
My career goal is to become an aerospace engineer and work on new or improved forms of space propulsion. I also want to continue to get my pilot ratings and gain experience on the side. After a few years of working as an aerospace engineer, I plan to apply for the astronaut program in hopes of one day making it to space. I know that to do this I will need a diverse yet specific set of skills and background knowledge, and I will continue to develop these throughout my professional career.
What advice would you have for other students who are interested in becoming involved with, or working for, NASA?
My advice would be to look for programs to get involved in! I was told that my participation in WAS and NCAS positively affected my internship application. Showing that you are interested and getting involved in the numerous high school, undergraduate and graduate programs will not only give you rich learning experiences but will positively reflect your ambitions when you apply for NASA in the future!
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Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services