Text Size

Caitlin Gibbons: Engineering is in Her Blood
Conversations with Goddard banner


Caitlin Gibbons has found her niche in Goddard’s community of engineers.

Name: Caitlin Gibbons
Age: 17
Hometown: Mt. Airy, MD
Position: Summer Intern
Code: 596, the Components and Hardware Systems Branch of Mission Engineering and Systems Analysis
School: Recent graduate of South Carroll High School, attending Penn State in the fall
Projected Major: Mechanical Engineering with an Aerospace focus
Mentor: Milton Davis

What do you do and what is the most interesting thing about your role here are Goddard?

My work involves analyzing electrical components under stress and fatigue. I determine the natural frequency of the components–the point at which the vibrations are enough to break the material–by testing them on the vibration table. It is extremely important that we can predict the minimum vibrations for different payloads that the components can withstand because materials launched into space experience major vibrations.

I have also been using Solid Edge, computer-aided design software, to virtually test models of the adapter plates used on the vibration table. The results of those tests are then compared with the outcomes of real tests to make sure that our experiments are on target with the predicted results.

The most interesting part about my job so far has been learning more about the various types of engineering
Caitlin in front of a Ling Dynamic Systems shaker table.› Larger image
Photo of Caitlin Gibbons is in front of a Ling Dynamic Systems shaker table. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Becky Strauss
and what specific steps go into planning a mission. I am so grateful that my mentor has taken time to show me around the testing area so that I get a feel for how it would be to work in mechanical engineering full-time.

What made you decide to apply to this internship?

Last year I interned in Goddard’s heliophysics lab. Although I think the work they are doing is really interesting, I found out that I enjoy more hands-on projects like the kinds found in mechanical engineering. I knew a lot about electrical and mechanical engineering from my dad, so I had to try this project when I saw it listed on the application site. Also, my grandfather was an engineer who worked on the navigation systems for the Apollo and Gemini missions, so maybe engineering is just in my blood!

What are your goals for the future?

I hope to get my four-year degree in mechanical engineering with a focus in aerospace engineering. After that I would love to work for a few years before returning to school for a master’s and maybe a Ph.D. Ultimately, I want to work for a space-related organization like NASA, APL, or SpaceX, where I can always continue to learn.

The outreach side of space science also interests me. I recently had the opportunity to talk to a group of girls in the Summer Institute in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Research (SISTER) program, and I really enjoyed transferring my enthusiasm to a new generation of girls who could pursue this type of career partly because of my influence.

Caitlin and a friend, Sam Rohrer, in their clean room suits holding two of the baffles for the MMS mission.› Larger image
Caitlin and a friend, Sam Rohrer, in their clean room suits holding two of the baffles for the MMS mission. Credit: B. Lambert

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying to the intern program?

Apply! You definitely will not get into the program if you do not try. Also, being a well-rounded person is often more valuable than just taking a lot of math and science classes. My mentor from last year, Dr. Joseph Fainberg, told me he picked me because of all the interesting classes that I had taken in high school such as ceramics, British Literature, and the floral arranging class that I was interested in. There are always useful lessons to learn from various fields that you might not consider as applicable to the project you are currently working on.

What are your hobbies?

I enjoy swing dancing, sculpting, and reading in my free time. I also have my black belt in Hapkido,
and I did shot put and discus during high school. I would like to continue swing dancing in college, but I will have to wait and see if I have time for that!

If you could meet anyone, who would you meet and what would you ask that person?

If I could meet with anyone in the world, I would want to meet with God in person to ask him why and how he created the universe that we live in today. I want to know what he was thinking about when he started the universe into the motion we currently observe. I would love to go back to that starting point so long ago to fully understand and watch (maybe in fast-forward) how it evolved over time.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

I love working at Goddard because the people here are not working for the money; they are working to rewrite textbooks. The scientists and engineers are interested in getting answers to some of the most fundamental questions of the universe. The atmosphere is unlike anywhere I have ever experienced.

Related Links:

› More Conversations With Goddard
Aimee Lynch
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.