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An Intern's Story: Creating Opportunities
June 27, 2014


It is no trivial fact that unlike animals, humans are naturally comfortable sleeping on their backs. This simple ability allows us the breathtaking view of the boundless cosmos as we drift into slumber, dreaming of the infinite wonders that lie before us. It was in high school that I rolled onto my back, shoulders digging deep into the ground, and gazed into the splendors of space.

I sought a path that would both satisfy my creative inclinations and utilize my aptitude for problem-solving and analytical thinking. At the advice of my chemistry teacher, I applied and was accepted to a program called the Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholars (VASTS) -- a long-distance course based on space exploration, which intertwined creativity with dynamic engineering principles. It was the initial push that would long perpetuate my passion for space science.

During my experience in VASTS I had the opportunity to design a crew transit vehicle, a lunar base blueprint, an extravehicular activity robotic arm, an International Space Station experiment, and other intensive projects.

To my delighted disbelief, I was chosen to attend a weeklong residential stay at NASA’s Langley Research Center where my peers and I designed a conceptual human mission to Mars within budget and technology readiness constraints. I served as the Subject Matter Expert for propulsion systems through which my study of a conceptual magnetoplasma engine intensified my passion for chemistry and nuclear engineering and guided my ambitions to one day design an engine using alternative fuel. I was also chosen by my peers to serve as the System Manager for the Strategic Communications Office where my duty was to communicate technical concepts to the general public and garner support for our mission to Mars.

It was through the VASTS program that I began to see how I could contribute my talents and ambitions for the purpose of an integrated mission design.

My leadership in VASTS inspired me to not only constantly seek to better myself and my education, but to enrich my community through promoting science literacy. My love of STEM education moved me to found a chapter of Mu Alpha Theta and the Science National Honor Society at my school. By initiating these clubs, it was my hope that more students would look up to the night sky and no longer feel intimidated and belittled, but rather empowered by their ability to discern the wonders of the cosmos through the study of science and mathematics.

By my senior year, a packed schedule of six Advanced Placement classes and running two newly founded organizations did not quench my thirst for the fast-paced world of space science. When I was approached by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium and asked to be a student representative for the VASTS program at the Virginia General Assembly, I jumped at the opportunity with full force.

During AeroSpace Day, I met with delegates, senators, and even astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger and expressed my deep appreciation for student programs like VASTS that had set my dreams into reality. During that day, I had the opportunity to work with engineers from Langley and even welcomed back aerospace engineer Guy Kemmerly as a keynote speaker for my school’s first annual STEM Night. Taking advantage of opportunities, and more importantly, creating opportunities was what it would take to breach earth’s escape velocity and shoot for the stars.

As the spring semester and my high school career came to a close, I was already looking for the next big thing.

Though I applied to the Langley Aerospace Research Student Scholars program, I calculated that the chances of me -- a high school student -- getting the internship was as sure as knowing both the position and velocity of an electron (impossible). As summer crept closer, I accepted a position as a gallery education volunteer at the Virginia Science Museum and was ready to spend my summer there in addition to working at a geotechnical engineering company, Geo-Solutions, at which I had been working for the past two years. Little did I know that NASA Langley’s Advanced Materials and Processing Branch would soon be my home away from home.

Through the sponsorship of the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, I was granted the opportunity to work with Langley’s best material scientists and researchers to compile a branch-wide database on current equipment and technological capabilities to be uploaded to NASA’s website. I immersed myself in all the literature on material science testing I could possibly find and soon found myself speaking the language of autoclaves and micro-polishers. The final product: a search engine tool that would allow NASA researchers and potentially other universities and organizations the opportunity to collaborate on projects and increase internal technological efficiency.

As I’m nearing the end of the project, I hope to further contribute to the research of the Advanced Materials and Processing Branch this summer and expand Langley’s vision for being at the forefront of space science materials research.

Though I’ve yet to step foot on my college campus, I know exactly where my passion lies -- and it’s right here, in the heart of Langley. 

Alexandra Hsain

Alexandra Hsain is a LARSS (Langley Aerospace Research Student Scholars) intern. She plans to attend North Carolina State University to study aerospace engineering.
Alexandra Hsain is a LARSS (Langley Aerospace Research Student Scholars) intern. She plans to attend North Carolina State University to study aerospace engineering.
Image Credit: 
NASA/David C. Bowman
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Page Last Updated: June 27th, 2014
Page Editor: Joe Atkinson