On her first day in the Mission Operations Center for NASA's KidSat project, college student Cari Goulard walked in, sat down and started helping another student enter latitude and longitude information into the KidSat software. As Goulard was working, KidSat advisor Karen Flammer came along with someone for Goulard to meet.
"Karen walks into the room with a black-haired lady," Goulard recalled. "I hear her say, 'You haven't met our newest recruit.' I turn around and she introduces us. 'Sally, this is Cari. Cari, Sally.' I respond, 'Nice to meet you,' answer a few of her questions, then she and Karen leave.
"I go back to picking locations, when all of a sudden it hits me. I turn to my companion. 'I just met Sally Ride, didn't I?' Laughing, he says that yes, I did. I didn't even realize it was her."
A veteran of two spaceflights and the first American woman in space, former NASA astronaut Sally Ride initiated the KidSat project, renamed EarthKAM in 1998. The project invites middle school students to submit geographical targets to be photographed using a digital camera aboard the International Space Station. (Originally, the EarthKAM camera flew on the space shuttle but was transferred to the International Space Station in 2001.) EarthKAM's most recent mission took place Oct. 20-23, 2009.
The EarthKAM Mission Operations Center is located at the University of California in San Diego. Undergraduate students are involved in operating the Mission Operations Center and supporting EarthKAM operations during missions, as well as preparing for future missions. For some, the EarthKAM project is their first step toward a future with NASA.
Goulard is one of several former KidSat/EarthKAM students who now work for NASA. Goulard started working with KidSat as a college freshman in January 1996. The next fall she held an internship in the payloads group at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, supporting the transition from KidSat to EarthKAM. Throughout her college career, she participated in NASA's Cooperative Education Program, working co-op rotations in Engineering Propulsion, the Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory, the International Liaison Office and the Extravehicular Activity Office, all at Johnson.
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 2001, Goulard joined Johnson's Cargo Integrations and Operations full time. She is currently an Assembly Checkout Officer support flight controller. She coordinates onboard and ground system interfaces between the flight control team and the payload customer. She monitors in-cabin and cargo bay experiments and satellites for the space shuttle.
"Since my first experience with KidSat, I knew that I wanted to continue in that field," said Goulard, who continues to help with EarthKAM missions when she can. She credits the KidSat/EarthKAM project with giving her a good work ethic and a continuing fascination with space.
"I would not have a job at NASA if I had not worked at and continued with KidSat," she said. "If you really want to do something, there's probably a way to make it happen. You have to ask, even if you don’t think that you're good enough or there's no possibility or they'll laugh at you. If you don't, you'll never know. If I hadn't asked my friend about KidSat, I would probably be a park ranger. Nothing wrong with that, but a very different life, for sure."
NASA aerospace engineer Katie Boyles was involved in the EarthKAM project in many different capacities while a UC San Diego student. She acted as a liaison for participating schools and worked as a mission scheduler in the EarthKAM Mission Operations Center. In her final year, she was student manager of the project. "As a mission scheduler, I received and verified picture requests from middle schools, and I created the Camera Control Files to be uploaded to the onboard camera that contained information on what pictures to take and when to take them. I also traveled to Johnson Space Center during one mission to serve as an EarthKAM representative at the EarthKAM console in JSC's Mission Control Center."
She graduated in 2001 with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering and now works in the aerodynamics and aerothermodynamics branch of the Aeroscience and Flight Mechanics Division at Johnson Space Center. She is the NASA Subsystem Engineer for Orbiter Entry Aerodynamics and also performs engineering analyses to aid in the design of the new Orion crew exploration vehicle.
Boyles developed a passion for space exploration after attending Space Camp as a kid. Upon entering college, she knew that working at NASA was her dream job. In addition to EarthKAM, she participated in NASA's Cooperative Education Program at Johnson Space Center. She worked co-op rotations with the Mars Advanced Planning group, the Spaceflight Training Division, and the Aeroscience and Flight Mechanics Division.
"The EarthKAM project is important because it combines cutting-edge Earth science with an amazing educational opportunity for both middle school students and the college students who work on the project," Boyles said. "By participating in the project, middle school students from all over the world have a chance to take part in a real mission by requesting images to be taken by a digital camera (formerly) on board the space shuttle and now the International Space Station. Besides providing stunning, high-quality images of Earth, this experience is used to enhance learning and excitement in the classroom."
EarthKAM was one of several NASA projects for UC San Diego student Mike Baine. Baine participated in the California Space Grant, which is part of NASA's Space Grant Consortium, and in NASA's Get Away Special, or GAS Can project. The project flew small experiments aboard the space shuttle. Baine also took part in Goddard Space Flight Center's NASA Academy.
"My undergraduate research opportunities exposed me to plasma physics, solar astronomy and aerospace engineering by managing a solar physics payload. The EarthKAM and KidSat payloads exposed me to space operations and Earth science," he said. "These experiences profoundly influenced my decision to go into science and obtain my doctorate in plasma physics."
Baine currently is working in the Office of Chief Engineer at Johnson Space Center. He is tasked with Project Orion Test and Verification oversight as the Independent Technical Authority for the Orion spacecraft end-to-end certification.
"I have had many moments of personal satisfaction for the work that I have been a part of, but my most adrenaline-filled memory is watching the space shuttle Endeavour launch with my payload on board," Baine said. "The exposure to science and space technology as an undergraduate was addictive and crystallized my career path. Working on the edge of possible and making a contribution to further our understanding is exploration in its purest form."
Baine, who holds bachelor's degrees in electrical and computer engineering and physics, as well as master's and doctoral degrees in physics, encouraged students not to underestimate the experience or personal growth that are gained through NASA student opportunities. "If you are accepted, do not take it for granted," he said. "See how far you can push yourself outside your comfort zone in the research, interacting with the scientists and engineers and in penetrating the organization that is hosting you."
EarthKAM is a partnership between Sally Ride Science; University of California San Diego; NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston; NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.; and NASA Education Flight Projects.
To date, more than 1,200 schools from 17 countries have participated in EarthKAM. The 73,000 students that have been involved have taken more than 29,000 images. The project supports NASA's goals of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and strengthening the agency's and the nation's future workforce.
ISS EarthKAM →
EarthKAM Fact Sheet
Astronaut Sally Ride Bio →
Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services