Episode 20: Kate Mitchell

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Episode 20: Kate Mitchell
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This episode is a part of the NASA
Student Opportunities podcast series.

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Show Notes

Special Guest: Kate Mitchell, NASA co-op student

(0:00) Intro

(0:19) Internships for NASA's CoLab are offered through the Education Associates project  →.

(2:16) Interview with Kate Mitchell. Purdue University senior Kate Mitchell describes her NASA co-op work with scientists and engineers who design future spacesuits.

          NASA Cooperative Education  →
          Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Project -- Microgravity University  →
          NASA Johnson Space Center co-op bio: Kate Mitchell  →

(8:28) 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 20. June 27, 2007. I'm Deana Nunley.

Students interested in computer programming, software development and virtual environments may want to consider internships with NASA’s CoLab. CoLab is a collaborative online space where scientists and engineers from NASA partner with the entrepreneurial technology community.

The CoLab project is developing virtual environments for the public to contribute directly to real NASA projects and missions. Projects include the development of the open source software CosmosCode and of NASA locations in the 3-D virtual world Second Life. These collaborative activities will result in a virtual community dedicated to the challenges and opportunities of space exploration.

Internships in NASA's Collaborative Space Exploration Laboratory are offered through the NASA Education Associates project. The CoLab internships are just a few of the many areas available through Education Associates. Other recent positions have been in the areas of graphics, multimedia, robotics and geospace.

The internships run from two to 12 months for students or faculty members at U.S. colleges or universities, postdoctoral fellows, and active K-12 teachers. During their internships, education associates work with scientists, engineers and project managers at a NASA center. The interns work on a wide range of NASA missions -- from the space shuttle to the exploration of the solar system or extreme environments on Earth. Most of the positions are at Ames Research Center in California, and the internships can start or stop at any time. New positions are posted on the Education Associates Web site.

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.


Kate Mitchell is a senior at Purdue University. She plans to graduate in August 2008 with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering and hopes to eventually work full-time at NASA's Johnson Space Center. She's already working there part-time as a co-op student.

Kate Mitchell: I've been involved in a couple different NASA learning opportunities in the past two years. I began the Cooperative Education Program in January 2005, and I've done three co-op tours with NASA. My first co-op tour, I spent in the International Space Station Motion Control Training group. It's a group that trains both astronauts and flight controllers on the guidance and navigation systems on the International Space Station. Then I spent my second co-op tour, in the fall of 2005, in the EVA Systems Operations Branch. EVAs are spacewalks. And that group did flight control and training for EVAs. And then I did a third co-op tour in the summer of 2006, working on the engineering side of EVA, in the group that is working on developing future spacesuits. I have two co-op tours left, one this summer and one this fall, and then, hopefully, I plan to return to NASA full-time when I graduate in August 2008.

Other than the co-op program, I also participated this spring in the Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program. That's a program in which students propose a research experiment that they'd like to fly in zero gravity. And then, if accepted, your team builds the experiment, and then flies them on board the NASA C-9 plane and tests their experiment in zero gravity. So I was able to do that a few weeks ago, and it was a very good experience.

Deana: You mentioned that you worked with the advanced spacesuit prototypes. How are the spacesuits going to be different in the future?

Kate: A couple of the main things that they're trying to do with the new spacesuits is make them lighter weight. If you've noticed, the suits that we wore, both on the moon and that we use now, were very bulky suits. So one of the things we're trying to do is use a lot of lighter-weight materials, composite materials and such, to trim down the suit. It'll obviously be different from the current space suit, the EMU [Extravehicular Mobility Unit] that they use in zero gravity, because we're going to be walking around. It's going to be a planetary suit, designed for walking around on the moon. Right now, the suit doesn't have very good boots. It's not made to walk in. The [future] suit is going to be designed to walk, and have boots with good soles to walk on the terrain on the moon.

Deana: Do you have any interest in being one of those people wearing the suits and walking on the moon?

Kate: Yes, definitely. I'd love to do that. I definitely think, when the time comes in the future, I'll apply for the astronaut program. But if I can't do it, I'm also very happy just helping put people up there.

Deana: What do you like most about working with NASA?

Kate: A lot of things. I love the space industry. I love human spaceflight. NASA is just an awesome place to work, because everyone there is excited about human spaceflight. So that's really cool. You're working with a lot of really intelligent people. All of my co-op tours have had great mentors. Everyone's been super friendly and super helpful, so I love that. And just the work itself is exciting. [During] two of my co-op tours, I have gotten to teach classes that astronauts take. It's been really neat.

Deana: How is it that an intern comes into the space agency and gets to do so much hands-on work in a very dynamic, technical field?

Kate: Lucky. That's one way. I just had really good mentors that allowed me to get close. They weren't scared to let me touch the models or analyze them. Of course, it was under direct supervision, so I really couldn't get that far into trouble before somebody would say, "That's enough." How did I get so lucky? I don't know.

Deana: What are some of the toughest challenges you faced as a co-op student?

Kate: I guess, just as a sophomore in college, 20 years old, walking into NASA. Those first few weeks, just feeling completely lost, kind of being nervous and afraid about it. But everyone was really helpful, like I said. And after some time, you get used to it. I just remember going to my first meeting on my first co-op tour, and it sounded like everyone was talking a different language because they use so many acronyms. So just kind of getting in the know about everything that goes on at NASA was a challenge, at first, but that's something that happens naturally over time. Other than that, though, there haven't been any major obstacles. One of the great things about the co-op program at JSC is that you're treated pretty much just like you're a full-time employee. I've never had anyone say, "Oh, you can't do this. You're just a co-op." Everyone is very open to giving you good projects. It's not like you're just getting little projects that no one else wants to do. They're giving you actual, real work. So, that's really great.

Deana: What are your plans for the future?

Kate: Right now, like I said, I have two co-op tours left, this summer and fall. I'll actually be going back this summer to the group that trains in the flight controls for spacewalks. And that's kind of where I'd like to end up. After the summer and fall, I'm going to go study abroad in Germany for a semester, and then graduate in August 2008 and, hopefully, return to NASA full-time. So that's kind of the short term. As far as long term, I'd definitely like to go back and get my master's degree. And if the opportunity arises, I'd love to be a part of the astronaut program one day, or otherwise, just continue with NASA and possibly go into the private aerospace industry at some point.

Deana: NASA co-op student Kate Mitchell. You can learn more about cooperative education projects and some of Kate's NASA activities by following the links in this week's show notes. Go to www.nasa.gov/podcast, and click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast.

We'd like to hear from you. If you have any 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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