August 28, 2008

The Sky is Not the Limit

Kelley Goodman ’11 writes about her summer internship working for NASA

Kelley Goodman ’11 (Foxboro, Mass.), a chemical engineering major, served a three-month summer internship working on the fourth servicing mission of the Hubble Space Telescope at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

It was more than a decade ago that I first developed my interest in astronomy. Cocooned in an oversized blanket on my front lawn, I would fall asleep, the stars my lullaby, and dream of the years ahead of me when I would become an astronaut. Over the years, my passion for astronomy has only intensified, but nothing could have developed this passion more than the opportunity that was presented to me this summer.

For three summer months, I worked as an intern engineer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. I applied for this job after participating in a one-week externship with Thomas Bagg III ’74, a principal systems engineer at Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, which I received through Career Services. Of the various different programs in progress at Goddard, I worked as an engineer on the fourth servicing mission of the Hubble Space Telescope.

This will be the fifth and last mission to service Hubble since its beginning in 1990, replacing old devices, repairing broken equipment, and installing new hardware to be used in Hubble’s unknown future. More specifically, I worked with a small team of about a dozen engineers on the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS).

Of Hubble’s three cameras, ACS is the most popular among scientists and has taken most of the world-renowned cosmologic photographs. But the camera malfunctioned in January of 2007 and, since then, has been out of commission. After much investigation, calculations, and cups of coffee, engineers determined that the malfunction was most likely due to a loss of the camera’s power supply.

Because ACS was never meant or built to be serviced, the engineers had to develop a new design to be incorporated into the existing structure. Simply-stated, a box (more specifically a CCD Electronics Box (CEB)) about the size of a briefcase was developed to be inserted into the refrigerator-sized camera and attached to a newly-designed power supply box that will sit on top of the camera. During the servicing mission scheduled for this October, one of the astronauts will service ACS during one of the four planned days of “moonwalks.”

My work this summer encompassed electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and software development. Most of my work involved conducting electrical and functional tests on the “box” and power supply device that will repair ACS. My work also involved much writing as I wrote several government documents outlining the testing procedures, implementations, and installation mechanics of the Latch Over Center Kit (LOCK) mechanisms. These devices will replace the current door latches securing Hubble’s doors to the camera and other sensitive equipment used by the telescope.

As a chemical engineering major, it is fair to say that I did very little titrating and Reynolds Number calculations during my internship. This was not a fault in my experience. In such a rigorous curriculum, engineering students rarely have the opportunity to study and learn about the other engineering fields. As I saw in my internship, this exposure becomes valuable in the working world as engineers from different disciplines must work together on a project. Although the different engineers have certain tasks and contributions to the project as a whole, there exists an overlapping area of knowledge in order to create efficiency, effective communication, and, most importantly, mission success.

Of all the things I learned during this internship, the most valuable was the confirmation that I want my education and career paths to lead into the aerospace industry. I want to work on space missions; I want to work with various engineers and scientists; I want to fly into space—because, contradictory to what they say, the sky is not the limit.

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