Episode 23: Madhurita Sengupta

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Episode 23: Madhurita Sengupta
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This episode is a part of the NASA
Student Opportunities podcast series.

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Show Notes

Special Guest: Madhurita Sengupta, NASA co-op student

(0:00) Intro

(0:19) Letters of intent to submit a proposal for NASA's Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Project   → are due Sept. 19, 2007.

(1:44) Interview with Madhurita Sengupta. University of Texas electrical engineering major Madhurita Sengupta says her main objective is to have fun in a job she loves, and she thinks she's found it in NASA mission operations.

          NASA Cooperative Education   →
          Johnson Space Center Cooperative Education   →
          Texas Aerospace Scholars   →
          Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Project -- Microgravity University   →
          National Space Biomedical Research Institute   →
          NASA Johnson Space Center Co-op Bio: Madhurita Sengupta   →

(9:23) 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 23. July 25, 2007. I'm Deana Nunley.

Would you like to know how a microgravity environment affects a certain material or process? NASA can help find the answer. If you have an idea for a microgravity experiment, NASA's Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Project can provide you with the opportunity to test it on board the agency's reduced-gravity aircraft. The project offers undergraduate students the unique academic experience to successfully propose, design, build, fly and evaluate a reduced-gravity experiment.

Students and their experiments fly approximately 30 parabolic maneuvers, in a rollercoaster fashion, over the Gulf of Mexico on NASA's "Weightless Wonder." Each hairpin-maneuver provides about 30 seconds of hypergravity followed by about 25 seconds of microgravity.

Students interested in this opportunity can get started now by submitting a letter of intent to the project coordinator. The letter of intent is optional, but serves as an introductory notice that a team plans to submit a proposal for the upcoming competition. Letters of intent are due Sept. 19, 2007. Final proposals are due Oct. 31, 2007.

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.


Madhurita Sengupta is a senior at the University of Texas at Austin and plans to graduate in December with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. During the last five years, she has participated in a variety of NASA learning opportunities.

What was your first involvement with NASA?

Madhurita Sengupta: My first involvement was I got accepted into the Texas Aerospace Scholars program my junior year in high school. And that was a distance-learning kind of thing for about six months. Then we were able to go and stay at a hotel across the street from Johnson Space Center for a week, and go onsite and do work in groups to complete a mission to Mars, and then also do other things like take tours and hear from astronauts and flight directors and stuff like that. So that was my first taste of NASA.

Deana: And have you had additional experiences with NASA since then?

Madhurita: I have. I think I've pretty much done every program under the sun. Right now, I'm in the co-op program.

Before that, I was an intern through the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, where I worked onsite with a medical doctor who works in life sciences on one of his projects.

Prior to that, while I was still in high school, I completed kind of a mentorship with an aerospace engineer out in the Advanced Mission Planning branch. And that same year -- that was my senior year -- I also participated in the Mars Settlement Design Competition, which was a weekend-long Mars mission planning kind of activity, with a bunch of different students from all across Texas, and I think maybe Ohio, too. I also participated in the KC-135 Reduced Gravity [Student Flight Opportunities] Program, before they retired the KC-135. Now it's the C-9. A couple of us from my school submitted a proposal, and it got accepted, I think, about two-and-a-half years ago. And so we got to fly in the summer of 2004, and that was an amazing experience.

Deana: If you created a highlight reel of your NASA experiences, what would you include?

Madhurita: Oh, wow. Definitely the experience of the Texas Aerospace Scholars. That was kind of my first taste. Before that, I had only visited Space Center Houston. And when I was 8, I told my mom that I was going to work there, touring through Mission Control. So being there with the NASA program was just an amazing experience. The flight on the KC-135 was absolutely incredible. That would be on there. And I guess a little bit of probably each of my rotations through the co-op program. They've each contributed to my overall perception and what I've learned and everything. Specifically, probably my robotics training experience was amazing. I was able to do some lesson development that I later got to see in lesson form, being taught to crewmembers. And then also my experience at the NBL [Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory]. I actually got to dive in the NBL twice, once to observe some hardware that I had helped design and manufacture, and then once to just hang around with the crew that I had been working with the entire time I was there. That was definitely a highlight.

Deana: You mentioned that you're a co-op at Johnson Space Center. A lot of students are interested in landing a co-op position. Could you walk us through the process of applying, and offer any suggestions for potential applicants?

Madhurita: Basically, I just applied at my career fair at school. NASA was there, and we just submitted resumes. You can either do it that route, or you can send your resume into the co-op office. And they have their information on the Web site. And then, once that happens, they'll contact you for an interview if you pass, I guess, the first round of evaluations. And then, once the interview happens, I think I waited maybe three or four weeks to hear back about the position. That was about it. It was pretty simple, I thought.

It definitely helps to have enthusiasm about the space program. I think all of the people who I've co-oped with so far have all had that enthusiasm. I think that really, really helps -- just to know about what the agency does, and where they're headed, and what your interests are.

And then, if you can get involved in a NASA program before the co-op program, that's also very helpful. I think the fact that I did Texas Aerospace Scholars and then the mentorship program, that really helped to show them that I did have enthusiasm and I did have aspirations to be involved in what the agency is doing in the long term. So I think those are definitely the key things to remember when applying.

Deana: How has NASA influenced your career plans?

Madhurita: Before I started the co-op program, I was sure I was going to work at NASA. I didn't know exactly where I wanted to work. And I think that's the nice benefit of the co-op program. We get to move around and get a taste of what different divisions and groups do.

After, I think, about three rotations, I still wasn't completely sure. I knew I wanted to come back, but I didn't know exactly where, because I had worked in engineering and life sciences and astromaterials. They were all really fun jobs, but I didn't know if I could see myself doing that long-term. And then, I came back to mission operations last year, and I just absolutely fell in love with it. And so, as of right now, I would really, really like to work in training, and specifically, robotics training, because my degree is in electrical engineering. And I feel like that's got the relation, that I can kind of understand the physics and things behind all of the material that the group trains.

So it's definitely helped a lot to shape what my interests are, and helped me refine those goals and figure out what exactly I want to do.

Deana: At this point, what would you say your main goal, or your main objective, is in your career?

Madhurita: I think my main objective is just to have fun doing something that I really love doing, which is exactly what happened for the last eight months while I was co-oping. I think if I could just do that for the rest of my life, that would be absolutely amazing. Right now, I would like to become an astronaut. But I'd still like to have the job that I absolutely love doing, and then being an astronaut would just be a perk. And if it didn't work out, then I'd still be able to rely on a job that I love.

Deana: Madhurita Sengupta, a NASA co-op student who hopes to earn her master's degree at the International Space University within the next few years.

If you want more information on how to participate in the NASA learning opportunities Madhurita described, or if you'd like to learn more about her NASA activities, follow the links 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 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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