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Cristal Vasquez, MUST Participant
A young woman observes a milling machine

Cristal Vasquez conducts research during a NASA internship at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Image Credit: NASA

In which NASA student opportunity project did you participate, and how did you get involved in it?

I am in the NASA MUST program. I found out about it while in junior college, applied and was accepted. I will never forget how I felt as I was reading the acceptance e-mail. I was at work as an intern for another company, and I wanted to jump and yell but I couldn’t. So I walked all the way out to the far back corner of the parking lot and called my grandmother, and I just went nuts and let out all of my excitement. It is a great program that provides a scholarship, an internship, a mentoring program and professional development conferences.

Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement and why this topic is important.

I am currently conducting research on thermal straps for airborne and space applications. More specifically, I am designing, manufacturing and testing a more flexible thermal strap for an airborne project, Portable Remote Imaging Spectrometer (PRISM). These straps are very important to be able to control the temperature of instruments that go into flight projects, which are exposed to extreme (cryogenic) temperatures. They are also very important for airborne projects like PRISM because this device reads very sensitive wavelengths to be able to characterize ecosystems, and the better the temperature is controlled, the more accurate reading it will provide.

What has been the most exciting part of your research?

The design I came up with for this project will actually be used on the final assembly of PRISM, and I just built the first prototype and will soon be testing it. So testing it and seeing how it will perform is pretty exciting. You always have doubts: Will it perform to its expectations? Will it fail? What if something goes wrong? So I am super-excited to test it and see the results.

What is your educational background, and what are your future educational plans?

I am a third-year mechanical engineering major and math minor at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Upon graduation I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering.

What inspired you to choose the education/career field you did?

As a kid, I was always playing with tape and any other scrap materials I could find. I would sit and build stuff for hours at a time, so as I got older I was recommended by a junior high school teacher to participate in this program called Proyecto Access. It was a program where they would set up a summer school program at the local community college, and they would teach us science, math and engineering courses like logic, physics, statistics, Photoshop, etc. All the classes were hands-on, and they also took us on field trips every Friday, to either universities or museums and science centers. That's when I decided I wanted to be an engineer. I was in the sixth grade, and everything I was learning just blew me away. I thought it was so cool!

What do you think will be the most important things you'll take away from your involvement with NASA?

The experience is invaluable -- being involved in a research environment where you are constantly learning.

How do you think your NASA involvement will affect your future?

I am now looking at attending at graduate school. This is something that before my NASA internships I was very hesitant about.

What are your future career plans?

I plan to pursue a field in engineering where I can make a positive difference in people's lives. I also hope to teach someday, because being a good professor can change students' lives and perspectives in a positive way.

What advice would you have for other students who are interested in becoming involved with, or working for, NASA?

Be persistent, and when you do get the opportunity, work hard and leave your footprints.

Related Resources:
›  NASA Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology
›  NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
›  NASA Education
›  NASA Student Programs
›  New York, New York

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services