Summer Interns Help Further NASA Earth Science Data Products and Services
News date: 08/11/2015
Josh Blumenfeld, EOSDIS Science Writer
The next generation of scientists and engineers gathered in Building 28 at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) to show off six weeks of hard work. These more than 100 high school and college students, representing schools from across the country, are part of the 2015 class of NASA summer interns, and include five interns directly supporting NASA Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) Project tasks at GSFC.At station 35A, Avian Richardson, a rising sophomore industrial and systems engineering major at Morgan State University, explains her work supporting the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi-NPP) (Figure 1). “I supported the creation of an interface control document [ICD] between the Suomi-NPP science data system and its distribution elements,” she says. “As part of this ICD, I created an appendix for the Ozone Science Investigator-led Processing System (SIPS), which provided daily volume and science calculations for the Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite (OMPS) data. On my second task, I created a test verification matrix that helps ensure that the Suomi-NPP requirements are verified and validated. My third task was to create a feature webpage for NASA’s Earthdata Wiki that provides an overview of the Ozone SIPS along with their standard products.”
The appendix to the ICD will go into the ESDIS Project configuration management system and the Earthdata webpage will provide valuable public information. Richardson notes that this internship enabled her to see how her academic work relates to work in the real world. “I found out what systems engineering actually is and what systems engineers do,” she says. “I found out what I want to do in the future.”
Allowing students to figure out their future career paths through real-world projects related to their academic studies is one of the key aspects of NASA internships. “I would say this is a pipeline into NASA, if they eventually want to work here,” says Alfreda Hall, the ESDIS Science Data Segment Manager and Richardson’s mentor. “Being involved with NASA early on is definitely a plus for them.”
All interns are assigned at least one mentor to guide and support their work. “As a mentor, my job is to make sure that the interns understand the task at hand, to be there to support them, and ensure that they understand what they are doing and the skills they are learning will advance and improve their life in general and the work we’re trying to do here at NASA,” says Hall. “It’s like being a mom to the intern over the course of the summer; you take it that seriously.”
Around the corner from Avian, Edmond Lee, a rising senior at the University of California, Santa Cruz, demonstrates an application he designed for the Worldview data browsing and visualization client. “I implemented one of Worldview’s most requested features, which is the ability to animate data over time,” Lee says.
As Lee explains his project, he manipulates a small tablet in his hand, selecting Worldview overlays and time periods. A few seconds later the animation jumps to life, showing ice surging and retreating around the North Pole. “There are still some bugs and I’m working through these, but I’ve gotten it to a very good prototype stage,” he says.
Lee learned about the NASA internship program through NASA’s One Stop Shopping Initiative (OSSI)/NASA Internships, Fellowships, Scholarships (NIFS) website. OSSI/NIFS is a NASA-wide system for NASA science and engineering mentors to announce their internship, fellowship, and scholarship opportunities. Through OSSI/NIFS, students can search and apply for all types of NASA internship, fellowship, and scholarship opportunities in one location. A single application places the student in the applicant pool for consideration by all NASA Centers and mentors.This summer, interns are supporting tasks at Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs) across the country. Interns at NASA’s Physical Oceanography DAAC (PO.DAAC) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA, are examining how the ocean and atmosphere interact at daily and diurnal time scales, developing visualizations of sea surface temperature data using the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, and developing a Web-based ocean winds/current visualization. NASA’s Atmospheric Science Data Center (ASDC) at NASA’s Langley Research Center near Norfolk, VA, is hosting four interns (Figure 2). “The biggest benefit to ASDC to having these interns is that it allows us to have additional manpower to point toward research and development of technologies we’re interested in researching, but for which we just don’t have the staffing to fully look into,” says Walt Bascom, a Senior Software Engineer with Science Systems and Applications, Inc. (SSAI) at ASDC and a mentor for two ASDC interns.
ASDC interns are developing spatial data mining and analysis algorithms to improve metadata for satellite Earth science data sets, improving public access for analysis and utilization of Surface meteorology and Solar Energy (SSE) project data, developing a new archived data product subsetter and data ordering application for Measurement of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) satellite data, and creating and testing new file transfer service software for ASDC’s Archive Next Generation (ANGe) project. “I’d say that in every case we’ll be using the work of these interns directly in our production,” says Bascom. “These students are amazing.”
Back at GSFC’s Building 28, Josh Veltri, a rising sophomore computer engineering major at Case Western Reserve University and an intern with the Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES DISC), is answering questions posed by NASA engineers about the Web-based monitor he built for the Simple, Scalable, Script-based Science Processing system. “Several years ago there was a user interface for controlling and monitoring the processing, but this has become difficult to support in recent years” Veltri says. “I was tasked with converting the user interface into a modern Web application.”
Veltri’s mentor, Chris Lynnes, the ESDIS Project’s System Architect, notes that the entire ESDIS Project benefits from the work done by the interns. “What Josh was doing was primarily for the GES DISC,” Lynnes says. “But it’s also possible that the changes he incorporated will be used at both the ASDC and the Land Processes DAAC (LP DAAC).”
Alfreda Hall agrees that the work of the interns has broad benefits. “Avian’s project will become a baseline document and will be used to document the interface between the Ozone SIPS and the GES DISC,” she says. “What Josh and Edmond have done provides real-world support for our mission. They are producing products that will become part of the EOSDIS program.”
Of course, the intern experience involves more than simply working on a single project. Interns have the opportunity to participate in many enrichment and social activities. This summer’s activities at GSFC included a lecture by Nobel laureate and NASA astrophysicist Dr. John Mather, participation in the Goddard Film Festival, and a science jamboree featuring ice cream made using liquid nitrogen.The liquid nitrogen ice cream was one of many memorable experiences for the two EOSDIS high school interns, Dionne Wright and Lauren Vaughan (Figure 3). Dionne is a recent graduate of Columbia Heights Educational Campus in Washington, DC, and will be a freshman computer engineering student at Penn State in the fall. Lauren will be a senior at St. Vincent Pallotti High School in Laurel, MD. The two teamed up to support configuration management for documents related to the Aqua, Aura, and Terra Earth observing satellites. “This year, Lauren and I audited and verified historical traceabilities for the EOSDIS system,” says Dionne, who also was an intern last year. Along with producing a valuable product for EOSDIS, Dionne and Lauren both note that the internship experience improved their organization, communication, and time management skills. “I’ll use these skills for the rest of my life,” Lauren says.
Mentor Alfreda Hall observes that many students, like Dionne, are repeat interns. Mentors also repeat the program, and Hall has served as a mentor for at least five previous interns. For Hall’s current mentee, Avian, this summer has been a valuable experience. “Thanks to the internship, I know what it takes to be a systems engineer,” she says.
NASA offers a wide range of internship opportunities for high school, college, and graduate students at facilities across the country. For more information and to search available internship opportunities, visit the NASA OSSI/NIFS website: http://intern.nasa.gov.
Last Updated: Aug 29, 2017 at 2:47 PM EDT