Suggested Searches

2 min read

From Interns to Astronauts

Jessica Watkins and Loral O'Hara
July 26 is National Intern Day. See how far these two former interns at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have come!

Jessica Watkins and Loral O’Hara used to be interns at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; now they’re astronauts. The two former interns joined the agency’s newest class of astronaut candidates in 2017, and were among 12 selected for the coveted spots.

While there’s no single formula for becoming an astronaut, experience at a NASA center certainly helps. In fact, many NASA scientists and engineers already working in their dream jobs landing rovers on Mars or discovering planets beyond our solar system, still aspire to become astronauts.

Watkins, who as a graduate student participated in several internships at JPL that had her analyzing near-Earth asteroids and planning ground operations for the Mars Curiosity rover, says that becoming an astronaut was a childhood dream that just “never went away.” In a video interview during her internship with the Maximizing Student Potential, or MSP, program in 2014 she talked about how she saw her experiences at JPL as a key step to fulfilling her goal.

O’Hara’s NASA journey began long before she was selected as an astronaut candidate. As a child, she was intrigued by anything that flew — birds, planes or rockets — and dreamed someday she could fly too. She grew up near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, and field trips and family visits to the facilities were common. Her second-grade class even grew tomato plants from seeds that had been flown on the space shuttle. In summer 2003, O’Hara began an internship, where she worked within the Flight Hardware Logistics Program, salvaging and cataloguing residual flight hardware.

More: About NASA Internships and Fellowships

Image Credit: NASA/David DeHoyo