In the summer of 2006 I was accepted into the Student Internship Program to work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. I was positioned in the Instrument Sciences and Technology Division under the mentorship of Larry Hilliard. I worked on a Multi-Wavelength Dielectrometer (MWD) and a Direct-Detection Wing Radiometer for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (DWU).
The Multi-Wavelength Dielectrometer (MWD) utilizes emerging technology to map sub-surface water content in Martian and Lunar regolith, or “soil.” Electric flux is generated by means of an open-faced capacitor that senses materials between two electrodes on the surface. By monitoring the shifts in the electric flux due to the difference in dielectric constants, the percentage of sub-surface water composition can be determined. My job was to figure out a way to place the electrodes as far away from each other as possible so that the instrument could send electric flux deeper into the regolith, thus having better chances at finding water. I was also given the opportunity to consider the options for testing the equipment. My partner and I worked on designs for “tubs” that would go inside a thermal vacuum chamber, holding lunar regolith simulant and a known water composition, along with the equipment. Liquid nitrogen would flow through the walls to cool the testing environment to simulate the Moon’s various temperatures. Towards the end of the summer I was also asked to design some electronics boxes to house the equipment. I researched thermal considerations for box designs and was able to conceptualize a few ideas for the team.
The DWU was my second research project. I tested a radiometer that would be used on a UAV to read the brightness temperature of the ground. The data can be analyzed to predict sea surface salinity and soil moisture. I even had the opportunity my last week to test the equipment in action at Wallops Flight Facility. As a side project, I worked a little bit with John Vranish on astronaut glove designs. He recognized my dream of being an astronaut someday and introduced me to a Naval Academy professor.
Working at the Goddard Space Flight Center this summer has given me the experience to jump-start my career. I’ve been exposed to a lot in a short ten weeks – an abundance of networking, designing, Goddard’s organization, working in the lab, and of course long meetings. All of this and much more will guide me in my remaining studies and future career.
~AUBREY TUK, UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI-ROLLA