Episode 41: Hugo Sanchez

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Episode 41: Hugo Sanchez
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This episode is a part of the NASA
Student Opportunities podcast series.

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Show Notes

Special Guest: Hugo Sanchez, NASA education associate

(0:00) Intro

(0:19) The application deadline for summer 2008 science and engineering internships through NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Student Project  → and the National Space Grant Consortia is Jan. 28, 2008.

(1:43) NASA and The Mars Society are offering students the opportunity to participate in a two-week training and research mission to the Mars Desert Research Station  → in Utah as part of the Spaceward Bound educational program.

(3:24) A notice of intent for college and university students to participate in a NASA aeronautics essay competition  → about air transportation in 2058 is due Jan. 19, 2008.

(4:47) Interview with Hugo Sanchez. NASA education associate Hugo Sanchez explores ways to rev up a nanosatellite for a rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid.

          NASA Education Associates  →

(12:49) 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 41. Dec. 12, 2007. I'm Deana Nunley.

Apply now for summer 2008 science and engineering internships through NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Student Project and the National Space Grant Consortia.

Students can apply for exploration-related internships at NASA centers or with space-related industry. Another option is to apply for research opportunities that may qualify as senior design projects. All opportunities are related to the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate’s critical research areas for NASA’s future missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. Research areas include spacecraft, propulsion, lunar and planetary surface systems, or ground operations. Systems engineering experience is a key aspect of all projects.

Opportunities are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Students must be U.S. citizens and enrolled full-time in an accredited U.S. university, college or community college. Interested students should work with their state Space Grant Consortium to identify specific opportunities.

The deadline for summer internships is Jan. 28, 2008. Applications for fall 2008 are due May 1, 2008.

For more information including a list of available internships and research projects, check out this week’s show notes. Go to www.nasa.gov/podcast, and select the NASA Student Opportunities podcast.


NASA plans to return humans to the moon by 2020 and then send human missions to Mars. Many of the astronauts who will become the next generation of moonwalkers and the first to walk on Mars are studying in universities and graduate research labs right now.

To prepare these future explorers and to learn more about exploring the rugged conditions of Mars, NASA and The Mars Society are offering students the opportunity to participate in a two-week training and research mission to the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. The experience is open to undergraduate and graduate students, recent graduates, or teachers in an engineering or scientific field.

The project is part of the Spaceward Bound educational program, organized at NASA’s Ames Research Center in partnership with The Mars Society and funded by NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

Spaceward Bound participants will perform research on local geology, crew member physiology, and microbiology, as well as field-testing new extravehicular activity hardware, rigging data loggers, and performing work-study task and procedure analysis.

Each participant will receive a $500 stipend for travel to Salt Lake City. Spaceward Bound will cover all expenses for travel from Salt Lake City to the station and for room and board at the station.

Crew rotations at the Mars Desert Research Station take place from October to March each year. Rotations are currently planned through 2010.

For more information and to apply for Spaceward Bound missions, follow the links in this week's show notes. Go to www.nasa.gov/podcast and click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast.


What will aircraft be like 50 years from now? NASA is posing this question to students at U.S. universities and colleges as part of a recently announced aeronautics competition.

Students are challenged to design the next-generation aircraft. Design considerations should include environmental impact, daily operations on short runways, passenger and cargo limits, structure and materials, propulsion, and cost analyses for production and operation.

Proposals should provide details on valid operational scenarios for potential use of the vehicle in the year 2058. The competition is open to teams or individuals.

Winners may be invited to a student forum sponsored by NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate and may receive offers of student internships or other prizes, including cash, depending on available funds. Though international students may enter the contest, only U.S. citizens are eligible for cash awards or student internships with NASA centers.

A notice of intent is due Jan. 19, 2008. Final entry is due on or before April 30, 2008.

For more information about the aeronautics competition, check out this week's show notes. Go to www.nasa.gov/podcast, and click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast.


University of California, Berkeley, physics major Hugo Sanchez spent last summer as an Education Associate at NASA Ames Research Center. The first part of his internship included work on data acquisition software. But his primary focus was on a project dubbed NEON, which stands for Near Earth Object Nanosatellite. He studied the feasibility of using Ames' current nanosatellite design to explore near-Earth objects, including asteroids.


Give us a brief summary of the projects you've worked on as an education associate.

Hugo Sanchez: I primarily worked on two projects. The first one was basically making up a dummy hardware setup for data acquisition software that I had to program. So it entailed setting up the PCI [Peripheral Component Interconnect] boards and a few function generators and trying to get a MATLAB program programmed. And that entailed about a few weeks of my summer.

The majority of the rest of the time I was involved in designing a NASA satellite in our Mission Design Center utilizing the software we already have there. It basically taps into a database of parts. We're capable of designing a satellite fairly simply, but the main challenge for me throughout the summer was finding out what each of these parts did and their function and limitations that they had. I had never worked on that before, so it was quite a steep learning curve, in learning all the details of the satellite and how to address this problem.

So that took a fair amount of time and through the whole process, I was asked to basically write a publication paper to present my findings. And that's something I have kind of continuously been working on and currently even got extended beyond the EA [Education Associates] project into a cooperative program. That way, I may complete the paper in, hopefully, a few months.

Deana: So you're going to continue on with NASA as a co-op student?

Hugo: Yes. I will. That's the current plan. We were held back due to certain issues with software, because I was helping out with populating the database and a few other side projects involving designing the nanosatellite. So it slowed me down. But a lot of valuable information was put into the database so people in the future could tap into it and not have to go through the same problems again. They found it worth their while to extend me beyond my initial deadline to stick around and continue my actual publication paper.

Deana: What are some of the things that you've learned about nanosatellites that you'll be including in the paper?

Hugo: The main problem was figuring out how to get enough velocity on it to conduct the mission that they desired, which was to rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid. They already have a nanosatellite designed to go into lunar orbit or low-Earth orbit, but when it comes down to near-Earth asteroids, they're flying by at -- relative to Earth -- about 5 or 6 kilometers (3 miles) per second. So they're zooming by. And getting enough speed on the satellite to rendezvous with those asteroids has been the main challenge. And on top of that, also the telecommunications -- transmitting signals from fairly large distances -- is also something that really had to be accounted for.

Deana: Is it possible that the things that you've learned -- some of the findings that you've come across this summer -- could have an impact on future space missions?

Hugo: Yeah. Definitely. I think throughout the Mission Design Center, the Small Satellite Office at Ames Research Center and what I've noticed throughout NASA is that it's heading to more specialized missions. The Discovery Program, I believe. Just more specified missions, cheaper, and just more capabilities in smaller packages. Nanosatellites are the ideal, ending goal as of right now. The technology is really limiting in that field, but I think it's definitely right on the verge.

The satellite that I've been working on is just slightly above 10 kilograms (22 pounds), but 10 kilograms would be the actual term for nanosatellites. So, in that range, and it's not far out of reach at all. I think it's definitely going to be the future of satellites compared to these 6,000-kilogram (13,227-pound) satellites that are going up.

It's a lot more cost-effective. And the technology to shrink down computing systems and even telecommunication systems and propulsion, it's getting closer and closer to that point where it is possible. So I think it will be helpful for myself going into this industry -- which I really want to continue doing -- to know this information. And I definitely feel I can apply it in the future.

Deana: What do you see as the benefits of your NASA experience?

Hugo: For one, I mean the clarity in knowing at least something that I do want to do and something that is very enjoyable, and a field that involves a lot of people who enjoy what they do. So I think getting a sense of that environment was really nice for me and probably the biggest benefit for myself. On top of that, the experience. I doubt I could heavily consider going into these fields with very little experience in aerospace engineering or mechanical engineering or anything of that nature. But with a publication on a nanosatellite design that was done at a very leading center, I think [this NASA activity] will really come in handy on resumes and just experiences that I can bring to future places, whether I work there or study there.

Deana: Do you think your NASA experience broadens your perspective as you go back into your academic studies this fall?

Hugo: Yes, definitely. I came to realize a lot of things that I've studied in the past, especially in physics and looking at telemetries and everything -- it was really nice to see that it was actually something that's not only used, but can be used in a very productive manner, I suppose.

I mean, studying the gravity forces, you have two bodies and all that. It's usually not presented in too much of an exciting way in the academic world, but basically to get the math and the skills down. But through the summer, there were plenty of very interesting and rewarding instances where using the things I study came in handy and just gave me more experience and just [helped me] be prepared.

So I think now, going back to school, I am going to have a little more focus, at least in giving certain problems or certain math or physics sets probably a little more consideration of how they could be used and the benefits it will have for me to really understand them to their full extent. I can take it with me into the future and apply it.

Deana: Hugo Sanchez is scheduled to graduate with a bachelor's degree in May 2008. As Hugo mentioned, NASA's Education Associates project offers the opportunity to apply classroom theory to real-world problems. Internships for college and university students and faculty run from two to 12 months and can start and stop at any time. You'll find a link to more information in this week's show notes. Go to www.nasa.gov/podcast and select 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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