Episode 14: Laura Sarmiento

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Episode 14: Laura Sarmiento
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This episode is a part of the NASA
Student Opportunities podcast series.

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Show Notes

Special Guest: Laura Sarmiento, NASA co-op student

(0:00) Intro

(0:19) Interview with Laura Sarmiento. University of Texas neurobiology major Laura Sarmiento discusses NASA's influence on her plans to be a flight surgeon.

       NASA Cooperative Education Programs  →
       JSC Co-op Program  →
       Texas Aerospace Scholars  →
       Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Project -- Microgravity University  →
       NASA Johnson Space Center Co-op Bio: Laura Sarmiento  →

(7:07) A lecture on the New Horizons mission  → to Pluto is June 14, 2007, at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

(8:29) End

Send your comments or questions to: educationpodcast@nasa.gov

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Deana Nunley: This is NASA Student Opportunities -- a podcast connecting high school and college students with learning opportunities inside America's space agency.

Episode 14. May 16, 2007. I'm Deana Nunley.

Laura Sarmiento graduates this month from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in neurobiology. She hopes to work in the aerospace industry for a couple of years and then go to medical school, where she plans to specialize in aerospace medicine en route to becoming a flight surgeon. Laura has been involved with several NASA learning opportunities, beginning in high school.

Laura Sarmiento: I first started with NASA with the Texas Aerospace Scholars Program. I think that program now is called the High School Aerospace Scholars. My junior year of high school, which was about 2001, I participated in that program with a series of online lessons and projects for a few months. I don't remember exactly how long it was. That summer, we came to Johnson Space Center for a week and worked on a project on a Mission to Mars. In the summer of 2004, I did the Reduced Gravity [Student] Flight Opportunities Program. I flew on the KC-135 that summer and that was an amazing experience. We wrote a proposal and it got accepted. We came down for a flight week. First, you have to do some training in the hypobaric chambers, which was kind of interesting, to test your level of hypoxia. So if you were to lose pressure in the KC-135, you know when your oxygen levels are getting too low. That was kind of fun. Then the actual flight was just amazing. I've always been a person who's loved roller coasters and things like that, so you're always trying to achieve that feeling of weightlessness. And now, on the KC-135, you actually get an entire 30 seconds of weightlessness. It was really cool to be so free. You can float around and spin and do all that kind of stuff. But I also liked the opportunity that we actually got to test something up there. It wasn't just having fun, but we actually ran our experiment, got good data and were able to analyze it later. So it was cool to see how that works -- the whole research process.

Deana: What was your research?

Laura: We tested a 12-lead EKG and saw the effects. They had only tested a three-lead EKG. So we tested a 12-lead to see if we could get more data from it.

Deana: What did you find out?

Laura: We did get some pretty good data from it. It followed the same things that you can see on a three-lead.

Deana: What else have you done with NASA?

Laura: I've also been a cooperative education student for about two and a half years. I started in January of 2004, and I completed five different tours. I worked three different tours in the Human Adaptation and Countermeasures Office, where my first two tours were working with cardiovascular research. I worked in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Sciences Division. I also spent one semester in the Space Medicine Office. I finished it up coming back to the Human Adaptation and Countermeasures Office, this time working with vestibular function -- balance and motion sickness and things like that.

Deana: Did you work with NASA flight surgeons during the co-op tours?

Laura: Yes, I did, actually. When I worked in the space medicine office, my mentor was a flight surgeon. That semester I learned a lot about what the job of the flight surgeon is, the certain training they need and how to get there. It was definitely a great experience.

Deana: Did that influence what you want to do for a career?

Laura: Yes, I definitely determined that NASA is where I want to be. Specifically, medicine is probably the way that I will be able to do my best to help the space program.

Deana: As you reflect on all your different NASA experiences, how would you say they've influenced your career?

Laura: I think that it has enhanced it. I thought I knew a lot about NASA before coming in, just because of my own personal interest in space and space exploration. But I didn't have any idea how complicated and how exciting and fun it actually is until I worked there. I think one of the greatest things about it is the people there, because everybody loves what they do. It's just a great working environment, and it's lots of fun. It's also very challenging and stimulating intellectually. We just are doing some really cool things, too. Sometimes, you have to sit back and go, "Wow, I can't believe I just flew in the KC-135," or "I just talked with astronauts who have been in space." It definitely has enhanced my drive to continue working with space and space exploration.

Deana: Did you grow up near Johnson Space Center?

Laura: I am from Houston, so I guess I've always had NASA in my life. I've wanted to be an astronaut since I was about four years old, so I've definitely been bitten by the space bug since I was really little.

Deana: Do you still hope to be an astronaut someday?

Laura: Yes, I do. It's still in the plans, maybe depending on how things fall in life, but I definitely haven't ruled it out yet.

Deana: What is it about being an astronaut that's attractive to you?

Laura: I think it's the idea for me that space exploration is our next step as humans. We've been exploring since the beginning, and space is the next place to go. I feel that being an explorer who's out there learning new things is really exciting.

Deana: How difficult do you think it will be to become one of the astronauts that go to the moon or Mars?

Laura: Definitely the competition is pretty tough. I think that [it's worthwhile] as long as you stick to something that you believe in and also do something that you like to do. If you are just trying to get to the position because it looks good, then you're not really going to be happy with what you are doing. I've had astronauts tell me that before, too, and I've also seen it. You always work best when you do something that you're good at and that you're happy doing.

Deana: As you've mingled with astronauts during your co-op experience, what impressions have they made on you?

Laura: They seem to have a fun time with their job. A lot of times they get the question, "How did you become an astronaut?" and they say, "Do something that you enjoy." You also have to take into consideration -- because I've also talked to a lot of people who wanted to be astronauts and then decided not to -- it's definitely an interesting thing as far as how to work your family around it and other issues like that. But I think that you can always find people who are supportive of what your goals are.

Deana: You'll find links to more information about NASA's cooperative education projects and Laura's co-op activities in this week's show notes. Go to www.nasa.gov/podcast and click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast.


Over a year into its journey, the fastest spacecraft ever launched is on a trek to a place where no spacecraft has traveled before. New Horizons will reach distant Pluto in 2015. The principal investigator for New Horizons, S. Alan Stern, will describe the science behind New Horizons during a lecture at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. It's June 14, 2007, and follows a free showing of the Academy Award-nominated film, Cosmic Voyage. The film begins at 6:30 p.m., and the lecture starts at 8 p.m. The event is free, but tickets are required. A live webcast of the lecture will be available for free viewing online.

You'll find a link to more information in this week's show notes. Go to www.nasa.gov/podcast and click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast.

We want to hear from you. If you have questions or comments about NASA learning opportunities, send an e-mail to: educationpodcast@nasa.gov

Thanks for listening.

NASA Student Opportunities is a podcast production of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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