Student Features

The Future Is Now
Aaron Levick

Aaron Levick worked for NASA last summer as part of the High School Intern Program at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Image Credit: Aaron Levick

During high school, students often talk about the career they want and the place where they want to work in the future. But for students like Aaron Levick who participate in NASA high school internships, the future is now.

Levick is a high school senior who worked for NASA last summer as part of the summer High School Intern Program at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md. The six-week program -- called HIP, for short -- engages high school students in real-life applications of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the research-focused NASA work environment.

Levick's internship introduced him to a critical blueprint for any NASA project: mission design.

In which NASA student opportunity project(s) did you participate, and how did you get involved?

I participated in the High School Intern Program at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. I actually found out about the program through my aunt. She is a close friend with the man who became my mentor (Bruce Campbell) and told me that I should look into this opportunity. I contacted Mr. Campbell, and after exchanging numerous e-mails, he referred me to the project coordinator (Bonnie McClain). (From there, Levick completed the application and all the necessary paperwork required to be considered for an internship in this highly competitive program.) The rest is history.

Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement, and why this topic is important.

My mentor was part of the Mission Design Lab, MDL, so my research revolved around their work. Aside from brewing coffee, I was responsible for creating and organizing a comprehensive, detailed chart of the past missions for which the MDL had proposed a solution. Of course, I'm only kidding about the coffee. But I did work with engineers in the lab to obtain the necessary information about each proposed mission: information such as the type of mission, the partner centers, the objective, project leaders, the type of craft (satellite, rover, etc.) needed, funding, the equipment needed, how far the project went and if it was chosen to be used, and anything else I could find out that seemed pertinent.

It's important to have a detailed record of the mission proposals of the MDL for a number of reasons. First of all, it is quite useful for showing the impressive history of Goddard's MDL. It can be used to persuade potential clients to choose Goddard if they see the past successes. The list is also useful if a similar proposal comes up in the future or if a previous one is revisited. Having the information for the first mission would greatly aid in planning the newer version.

What was the most exciting part of your research?

The most exciting part of my job was talking face to face with many of the engineers, discussing the project, their role and what they contributed. I spent a decent amount of time interacting with the engineers in order to gather information, so I was fortunate enough to interact with them on an almost daily basis. If I was lucky, they would even show me how they had designed their piece in the mission and all the aspects that went into it. It was incredible to realize how much preparation, research, calculation and time goes into each mission.

What is your educational background?

I'm currently a senior in a large public high school. I've had public schooling all my life. As far as courses that might pertain to my work, I'm currently taking my second year of calculus as well as my second year of physics. I also took a chemistry course during my sophomore year.

What inspired you to choose the career field you did?

I will most likely pursue a career in physics or astronomy (or a combination of both). Originally I was inspired to choose this path by my own curiosity. I've always wondered how and why everything in our world happens. I've also wondered the same about anything beyond our world. Physics explains almost everything on Earth, as well as a portion of what we know about space. Astronomy interests me because it helps explain and observe everything beyond. I've also always been greatly enthralled by the vastness and mysteriousness of the universe. I figure that with a combination of both, I'll be able to understand and explain anything that I experience or observe.

What do you think are the most important things you took away from your involvement with NASA?

The most important thing that I took from my experience is probably an understanding of the job opportunities available at NASA and how the missions get planned and become a reality. Before the internship I had very little knowledge about what such a job actually entailed. Since I had considered working for NASA when I’m older, this was an amazing opportunity.

How do you think your NASA involvement has affected your future career?

It definitely helped me in my decision of what I wanted to study and where I might work. Seeing the incredible things that these people worked on just made me even more enthused about studying physics. A better understanding of the job opportunities at NASA helped too. Before, I had been hesitant to consider physics because I was unsure about the employment. Now I can put NASA as primary choice in my career options after school.

What are your future plans?

I will be attending Cornell University starting next fall. As previously mentioned, I will most likely study physics. After college, I plan on going to school again to get my master's degree. Of course NASA will be an option after that, but if not, I will most likely teach -- hopefully at a university, where I can do research, too. However, if I find a good, dependable job in industry before teaching, I'll take that, too. I'll be happy with most work as long as it's interesting and pays the bills. I've heard that video game design uses physics, too.

What advice would you have for other students who are interested in becoming involved with, or working for, NASA?

You really have to love your work. I was interested in the missions and engineers at the MDL, so it wasn't bad when I had to do some of the more tedious work. But I can see someone who isn't as interested struggling with doing the same task.

Also, don't be afraid to talk to or confront people (in a non-threatening way). I was wary of bothering people to find out about the projects at first, but after I got over it, my work progressed much faster.

Related Resources
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Mission Design Lab   →
Goddard Education
NASA Education Web Site

Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services