2019 NASA Summer Interns
Watch short vlogs from New Zealand’s first interns as they adjust to life at NASA and document their leading edge space projects. The top tertiary students were chosen from over 200 applicants to participate in the 2019 NASA International Internship Programme over the U.S Summer from June to September 2019. To complement this opportunity, the New Zealand Space Agency offered the New Zealand Space Scholarship.
Andrew's reflections on NASA
20 August 2019
In the final days at the Ames research Center, Andrew Alder chats about what he's gained from the NASA International Internship Programme at Silicon Valley, California.
[Andrew stands outside at Ames Research Center in front of an old NASA aircraft.]
Hi there, my name is Andrew and I'm one of the four Kiwi interns who has been working at the NASA Ames Research Center over the last nine weeks. I'm standing in front of a P3 Orion, which as you can see is currently not in use anymore but it's kind of one of the many artefacts that are floating around the NASA Ames complex.
We're in our final week here with only two days to go, and it's been an amazing experience so far. I've been incredibly impressed with the quality of the internship and so, so happy to work on the project that I've been able to work on. I'm working on an Aeronautics project and, yeah, I just don't think I would have had the opportunity to work on such cutting-edge research other than right here at NASA.
In addition to the project itself there's been a lot of peripheral benefits of the project which has been kind of amazing. They've had a summer lecture series over the last ten weeks in which they invite really interesting speakers from within NASA and outside to come and give a talk. Also it's been amazing to go on tours or some of the research facilities here. So as I think I mentioned in a previous video I got to tour the vertical motion simulator which is the largest in the world, and we're able to see the national large-scale wind tunnel which is also the largest wind tunnel in the world.
I think overall meeting Americans and other nationalities and kind of interacting with them. So I think from that perspective it's been great in the sense of building or improving cultural understanding I should say, which is something which I think is really important just kind of generally as a person but also working in the space sector which is I think naturally just a really international field. So the International Space Station for example was a project which has so many different nationalities working on it and collaborating. And Rocket Lab which many people in New Zealand know of is a US company or has US components and New Zealand components. So I think having cultural understanding between New Zealand and the U.S. is incredibly important and something really great that I have personally taken out of this internship.
It's been as I say a really great opportunity. I've been able to work on some cutting-edge Aeronautics research. As I mentioned in a previous video I was working on the dynamics and control with flexible aircraft wings, something which will likely be used by commercial transport aircraft manufacturers in the future - the likes of Boeing. So I think having exposure to that kind of project and the way that the project’s approached, and some of the logistical issues with kind of like managing the project has been really interesting to see.
I think generally as well, working at NASA has been amazing because NASA is a globally recognized brand and so in terms of future career it will just be incredibly beneficial for helping with jobs. But as experience goes as well, just being able to take some of what I've learnt at NASA and bring it back to New Zealand to help foster the growth of the New Zealand space sector.
So I really encourage any of you out there who are interested in STEM and space to apply to go on one of these internships as well - it's been an amazing opportunity as I've said: for the project and the kind of research that you do. But as I also mentioned, a lot of the peripheral benefits too, so the likes of the lectures that you can go along to, and the calibre of the speakers that they get, as well as the research facilities that you can kind of experience. And in addition to that as I've mentioned being able to just generally enjoy California in such an amazing place, as well as make some great friends and kind of generally improve your cultural understanding and the connection between New Zealand and the U.S.
Farewell to a living museum
20 August 2019
Kiwi space intern Hammond Pearce sums up his 10 week NASA International Internship experience.
[Hammond stands outside at Ames Research Center in front of an old NASA Zeppelin hangar.]
Hi my name is Hammond, I'm one of the Kiwi interns who was sent here on the 2019 summer international internship program to the NASA Ames Research Center here in Silicon Valley, California. It's now week 10 of the program, we've got just two days left tomorrow. We're going to be presenting our posters to the other interns, to other employees, and even to members of the public - where we're going to showcase the work that we did here over the last 10 weeks and hopefully gain some valuable feedback.
We've been living on base and just surrounded by the history of Ames. It's their 80th anniversary on the same day as our poster symposium and we're just surrounded by so much fantastic history here. They've got the same machines that they worked on with the Apollo programme, and with the Curiosity programme, and now soon to be the Artemis programme where, because NASA is such a large organisation, all of these different research centres take part in achieving the big goals that NASA is known for.
Even just behind me we've got old test equipment and old test aircraft that they used as part of these programs and throughout the history of Ames, and the whole base is like this. It's absolutely been fantastic staying here, it's like being a part of a kind of like a living museum where research is still being undertaken, it's absolutely brilliant. It's absolutely breath taking sometimes seeing the kind of stuff that's been here. It's been really rewarding being here at NASA Ames over the past 10 weeks because we've been able to be a part of such cool projects that are not really well represented yet in New Zealand but who knows, maybe in the future we'll be able to take back some of the knowledge that we've learned here and actually apply it to industries and academia within New Zealand.
I hope that having Kiwi interns here can serve as a kind of inspiration for people like us, you know normal boys and girls who go ‘hey you know wouldn't it be really cool to work at NASA?’ because actually it IS really cool to work at NASA, and everyone should be able to have that chance.
Thanks very much for listening across the previous videos that I've filmed and keep an eye out for upcoming videos, hopefully as other Kiwis get to come to NASA as well.
Standing on the shoulders of giants
20 August 2019
Rose Swears has recently completed a 10 week internship at NASA on the NZ Space Scholarship. She reflects on what she's learnt and what it means for her future career in space research.
[Rose stands outside at Ames Research Center in front of an old NASA Zeppelin hangar.]
Hello, we've met; I'm currently standing outside the Maycon hangar which was designed for Zeppelins - which is why it's so thundering huge! I've been working at NASA Ames for the last ten weeks, it's been brilliant. I get to present my research tomorrow I've been working on some pretty ground breaking research. We've been doing a feasibility study to set up for future work on Enceladus and other exciting icy moons, way out in the middle of the solar system. In my time at NASA I've had a chance to learn a lot about electrochemistry which I did not think to be doing again after undergrad. I've had a chance to learn a lot about method development of new analytical techniques that no one's ever done before, which is great.
Along the way I've helped my mentor meet an important deadline for the space race’s Microbial Evolution project that went up on the n the SpaceX 18 in July. I’ve met a rocket scientist who I’ve been wanting to meet for quite a long time. I have a possible topic for my PhD thesis, if and when I've met a lot of lovely engineers and a couple of nice chemists - because there are not many chemists at NASA which grieves me deeply. But it's great because apparently chemistry is a bit niche here and in other places, so always room for more chemists because we're very helpful and we help everybody else understand the world so they can put it together in the wrong order again.
Things that I have done here that I couldn't possibly have done in New Zealand are, for instance, working on things to be sent to the moons of Saturn in the very distant future. I've been let loose on the hardware from the last Mars rover, and run chemical experiments on the hardware from the last Mars rover. I've met a lot of cool people and pestered a lot of very cool people about projects endlessly.
I think my most important takeaway from this internship is that studying space research doesn't have to be being a rocket scientist. It doesn't have to be creating the new Mars rover, it doesn't have to be any of the things that are happening immediately and right now. Space research can also be setting the groundwork for things that will happen in 10, 20, 50 years - maybe not even in your own lifetime. It's setting the groundwork for other people to build on in future.
I'm working off things that have been done in the 60s in the 50s. I'm currently working with science that was set in place before I was even born and will probably be completed long after I retire so it's important. It's like Isaac Newton said ‘we can only see so far because we stand on the shoulders of giants’. I'm in no way claiming to be a giant, but I'm really enjoying being part of the pile!
Testing aircraft designs at the world's largest wind tunnel
18 July 2019
Now over halfway through his 10-week internship at the NASA Ames Research Center, Andrew shows us the world's largest wind tunnel for testing aircraft technology. His project at NASA is focusing on designing novel wing sensors for aircraft, an experience made possible by the NZ Space Scholarship provided by MBIE's New Zealand Space Agency.
[Andrew Alder stands on the grass in front of the NASA Ames national full-scale aerodynamics complex. This is the world’s largest wind tunnel and is a huge concrete building with grills on the front and scaffolding behind.]
Hi there, my name is Andrew and I'm one of the New Zealand interns working at the NASA Ames Research Center into the summer. I'm currently standing in front of the NASA Ames national full-scale aerodynamics complex, which contains an 80 by 120 foot wind tunnel, making it the largest in the world. Despite it being quite windy today the wind tunnel is not turned on, as you would probably know it!
The reason I'm standing here is my project’s tangentially related, I'm working on novel aircraft wing design or specifically, the sensor placement for novel aircraft wings. And actually the project I'm working on is a scale model of the wing which will be tested in a wind tunnel up in Washington State, so actually in a wind tunnel much smaller than this. Specifically my project is looking at how can you place the sensor on these wings in order to estimate the mode’s shape, which is another way of saying how the wings move and look during vibrations.
The project is going well so far, I've gotten some good results. I've implemented a sensor placement algorithm which kind of takes a large number of sensors spread over the span of the wing and reduces them down to fewer sensors - getting rid of the ones that don't contribute much information.
So I've actually just finished completing a poster on the progress so far and what I've done which will be presented in a month's time at the NASA Ames Research poster symposium.
Some of the skills that I've learned here so far have been in project management, not in the broad sense but just in the narrow sense of my project. So my mentor has provided incredibly valuable guidance in terms of how to structure a problem and kind of how to isolate the avenues that you want to explore in solving that problem.
So it's been really valuable actually doing research here at NASA in order to see how they approach research. They do a lot of collaborations, so the project I'm working on has two contractors involved. So, a contractor who's wind tunnel they’re using and also one who's setting up the sensors and hardware and data acquisition. And, it's broadly just interesting in the sense that a lot of their research is orientated towards generating or producing a useful result. So the research they do is typically orientated to giving it out to industry or producing kind of solutions. So the work I'm doing is going to be used, hopefully, for commercial transport aircraft - so giving this to the likes of Boeing at the end of it and seeing if they can do something with it.
So thank you very much for tuning in, until next time.
How do robots traverse new planets? Hammond shows us at NASA
11 July 2019
Nearly halfway through the 10-week internship, Hammond Pearce is designing a robot called ‘Superball’ which will one day navigate difficult terrain on the Moon, Mars or some other planet. In this Vlog, Hammond takes us to NASA’s Roverscape Robotics Research Development and Test Facility - talking us through how Superball works and what he’s learning.
[Hammond Pearce stands in an open area with gravel and rocks next to a robot with rods and strings.]
Hi, my name is Hammond and I'm one of the four Kiwi interns who have been selected to work here at the NASA Ames Research Centre this summer.
[Pan of the test area – an open gravel park with a few boulders and a building in the distance.]
“I'm actually standing at the moment in the ‘Roverscape’ which is one of their research facilities which is where they test Rovers and robots that are destined for the surface of other planets. One of the robots that has this potential is actually the one that I've been working on.”
[Back to Hammond standing in an open area with gravel and rocks next to a robot with rods and strings.]
Superball is a relatively strange looking robot because it's classified as what's called a tensegrity robot. Tensegrity robots are classified as such because they're made out of rods and cables, and everything is just held under tension, hence the name tensegrity - from tension.
What you probably won't be surprised to hear is, is that it's quite difficult to get a tensegrity robot to achieve meaningful locomotion. By which, okay, we've got a motor, we've got a string we can make that string shorter. But how can we achieve patterns of these strings moving in such a way that we can get it to achieve useful motion. For instance, turning onto its face or taking a payload that would be suspended in the middle here [Hammond bends down to show where the payload would be suspended in the middle of the ball] and rolling it across the surface to a destination where we want – or Mission Control would want – that robot to go.
[Sound of electrical noise. Film of the SuperBall robot moving slowly over one way then back again across the ground, controlled by robotics.]
[Back to Hammond standing in an open area with gravel and rocks next to a robot with rods and strings.]
As you can imagine, having the experience to work on projects such as this, with equipment such as this, in a place such as this is one of the most valuable things to be coming out of this internship program. We simply don't have research quite like this being performed in New Zealand, with robots quite like this. As such, we're already looking at ways that we can actually export this kind of research to New Zealand - through perhaps applying for research grants or trying to start cooperation between the University of Auckland and this Research Centre.
[Image of the Roverscape Robotics Research Development and Test Facility sign on the fence of the roverscape.]
[Back to Hammond standing in an open area with gravel and rocks next to a robot with rods and strings.]
We're really hoping that the first cohort of New Zealand interns coming to work here, and hopefully the first of many cohorts of New Zealand interns coming to work here, will be able to take projects like this home and really get New Zealand's space research ‘rolling’.
NZ's NASA Interns on robots, wing sensors & the search for life
3 July 2019
Selected New Zealand students are at NASA's International Internship programme from June-August 2019. In this video they discuss their cutting edge projects and their first impressions of NASA. The students received NZ Space Scholarships to attend this prestigious 3-month programme. The scholarships are managed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Space Agency.
[Three NASA interns are sitting in an office at the NASA Ames Research Centre, having a conversation. The interns are, from left to right: Andrew, Hammond and Rose.]
Andrew: Hi, I'm Andrew
Hammond: I'm Hammond
Rose: and I’m Rose.
Andrew: We're three of the Kiwi interns that have been sent here to the NASA Ames Research Centre as part of the International Internship Programme. In today's video we're going to talk a little bit about the projects that we're working on, and some of the first impressions that we've been having since arriving here at NASA Ames about three weeks ago.
Rose says, “Something I'm doing may end up on another planet someday, which is awesome. So what I'm doing at the moment is optimising various quantitative techniques of stripping voltammetry, which is when you load a whole load of metal onto an electrode and strip it all off the electrode very quickly and look at what the current does. There's some indication from hydrothermal vent chemistry and various other areas of the solar system suggesting that some trace metals may be indicators that there is life, or the potential for life. Things like iron are really important in the sort of chemical energy cycle of methanogenic organisms that show up on the black smokers at the bottom of the sea, so it's a lot of ‘look at things that happen in weird places on earth and see if we can find the potential to replicate their environment elsewhere’. And so I'm spending a lot of time dunking electrodes in and out of beakers and watching them to see what they do".
[Clip of Rose using the lab equipment to load and strip electrodes, which then cuts to an image of the results being graphed on a computer screen.]
Andrew says, “I'm working under the supervision of doctor Kelly Kasumi and I'm working on the sensor placement for a novel flexible wing design for aircraft. So essentially I'm looking at how you can place the sensors on there to figure out how the wing is moving. So as aircraft are becoming lighter - they've been designed lighter to decrease fuel consumption – then the wings are becoming a lot more elastic - so this can be quite detrimental if you can't control for it. And so, yeah, I'm looking at the sensor placement to estimate how their wings are moving. I'll probably move on to looking at some of their controls - so how you can control the wing in order to do what we want to do. Hammond asks Andrew “Is it going to be practical for commercial airlines do you think, or is this mostly fighter jets we’re talking about here?”.
Andrew replies, “I think it largely will be commercial airlines. I mean it's currently just a novel wing design and research for that, but I think I see it being used for commercial aircraft”.
Andrew asks Hammond, “So, what about you, what's your project?”. Hammond replies “So my project is under the supervision of Dr. Michael Furlong and it's in the area of what they call tensegrity robotics. So they have what's called a tensegrity robot, and what that is, is a robot that looks very strange. They're designed to mimic the way that biological organisms move around. So, like I move around - I've got bones and I've got muscles connected to bones- I don't have motors that spin. The way a tensegrity robots works is they try to emulate that with spine joints, so they’re fixed joints, just like our bones are fixed, and then they're connected together by strings which are actuated or springs which are actuated. And using that - just like how my muscles can move my arm up and down - the tightening and loosening of these string muscles within the robot can move that robot around. So they've got a number of tensegrity robots they've built here as prototypes - there's some that look like snakes and some that look very strange all together.
[Image of a tensegrity model that looks like a snake.]
But the design that they're really focused on now is called Super Ball, which has got six bones and it is a ball structure that rolls around.
[An image of a second prototype called the SuperBall comes up , which looks like 6 rods joined by strings organised in a round shape, then an animation of the Super Ball being moved by code on a computer screen. The image goes back to the three students sitting in the office again.]
My part within that project is looking at how we can get the ‘muscles’ if you were, of the robot to achieve certain gaits. So when I want to walk as a person I can just think about walking over there and kind of my body does it semi-automatically. They want that sort of behaviour on the robot as well, where the control unit for the robot can say ‘hey robot, go over there’ and the robots muscles already have this idea of the pattern they're going to need to execute in order to move the robot from where it is at Point A to where it wants to be at point B".
Rose comments: “So basically it’s a marionette that rolls along the ground”.
Hammond replies, “That’s a good way of looking at it. It IS like a marionette running along the ground.
So they want to put these robots maybe on Mars, maybe on the moon - basically anywhere where there's harsh environments with the idea being that they can navigate unexpected terrains they're not going to be stopped by a little ledge. And also they can be a bit more resilient when it comes to the damage and wear and tear that these designs can take".
Andrew: “I think first impressions here are really good. I mean, California is an amazing place to live, and I don't think it's rained a day since we've been here, so that's been pretty awesome. Otherwise, I think I was initially struck by (as we talked about) how old it seems, but following that, incredibly impressed about the nature of the research that they do, and as you’re kind of saying how cutting-edge the research is. And kind of how new it is, so although externally it might not look that fancy inside they've got a lot of amazing projects going on.
So we visited the vertical motion simulator which is like incredibly large, I think it's the largest vertical motion simulator because you can move up and down ten storeys, and so they were initially testing the space shuttle landing there. They were training astronauts to land the Space Shuttle on there, and now they're kind of using it for air taxis, so the likes of Uber who developing air taxi systems. So it's just interesting to see how a lot of the hardware that they've got in their facilities is being applied for these newer kind of applications.
So to conclude, we're all making really good progress on our projects so far, and I think we're all really enjoying everything - so we'll check back in and a couple weeks and keep you updated. Thanks for listening guys"
Rose Swears - acclimatising to NASA
16 June 2019
Rose Swears from Waikato University talks about how she is acclimatising to NASA
[A woman stands outdoors to the right of a large United States space shuttle sculpture. She wears glasses and waistcoat with a black t-shirt. A Norse pendant hangs from her neck.]
Hello, I'm Rose, I'm one of the New Zealand interns chosen to come and be the first Kiwis to intern at NASA, or NAASA… actually they all say at NIASA so I guess I can get away with (saying) anything!
I'm from Hamilton and I study my Masters in carbohydrate chemistry at the University of Waikato which is really exciting.
Now I'm here on a beautiful sunny California day at the Ames Research Centre, where I'm also studying things that are really exciting.
My project is just getting started, it's day three of the internship and I'm learning what I'm doing. I have wanted to do this all my life… yeah it's looking like I'm going to be working on things for real missions for a change, so that's kind of cool!
Hammond Pearce introduces NASA space tech
12 June 2019
Hammond Pearce explains to us novel technologies the interns will get to see and work on at NASA, and the truly international nature of this internship programme.
Hi, my name's Hammond and I'm one of the four Kiwi students here on the NASA international internship program where we are both studying and living at the NASA Ames Research Centre here in the bay area of California.
We're all really excited to be here, as you can imagine, because we're going to be working with some of the foremost experts in their fields when it comes to the variety of missions that NASA encompasses - which is more than just launching rockets and doing things like that.
They're looking at life sciences, they're looking at monitoring the planet, they're looking at all kinds of interesting things: re-entry systems, autonomous robotics, self-assembling structures… you name it, the list goes on.
There are six other nations already here in the International internship program including Trinidad and Tobago, Portugal, Brazil and other countries as well. So you know, it's still very early days but I think we're all really keen to get on and see how it goes.
Andrew Alder – first week at NASA
12 June 2019
In June 2019, four talented New Zealand university students started their 3 month NASA International Internship programme at the NASA Ames Research Centre in California. Andrew Alder explains his first impressions and what he’s hoping the internship will offer him.
Hi there, my name is Andrew and I'm standing here at the entrance of that NASA Ames Research Centre which is located in Mountain View, California. You probably haven't seen me on camera yet or in the media because I've been living and studying in Boulder, Colorado doing my Masters in aerospace engineering. Prior to that I lived in Auckland, New Zealand where I went to the University of Auckland to study mechanical engineering and philosophy.
I'm really excited to be here in California, it's a beautiful place and the internships have gone well so far - this is day 3. I'm really looking forward to interacting with a lot of the amazing researchers and people here and benefit from their experience, as well as exploring some of the amazing research labs that they have. And learning a little bit more about some of the areas outside of my expertise, so they've got a summer lecture series and I'm looking forward to attending that.
I'm hoping to enjoy the California culture and kind of explore a lot of the area around here. Some of the New Zealand interns and I have already been to Santa Cruz Beach on the weekend which is beautiful. But yeah, just interacting with the other interns of which I think there's over 100, and some of the other internationals in terms of which I think there's about 20, including ourselves. So I'm looking forward to a great summer.