Interning Inside NASA Langley Research Center

Craig Schmidt, BS, Mechanical Engineering, 2017—Preparing a mil­i­tary heli­copter for a crash test is a strange expe­ri­ence. You spend three months designing equip­ment, fab­ri­cating parts and preparing instru­men­ta­tion, only to crash it all into the ground at 40 miles per hour. The phys­ical prod­ucts of the effort are a set of high speed videos, crash impulse data and a destroyed heap of metal and glass.  The prac­tical impli­ca­tions of the test, how­ever, are more sub­stan­tial. Inside the air­frame lie three inno­v­a­tive energy absorbers, designed by NASA and the U.S. Army. Made of com­posite mate­rials, these energy absorbers are designed to cushion pas­sen­gers from hard impacts and decrease the like­li­hood of injury.

For Craig the expectation of NASA was white lab coats and top secret projects. What he found was offices full of casual discussions, encouragement to participate in research and witnessing innovative technology first hand.

“My first week, I heard rumors that a scale model of the Mars SLS (Space Launch System) rocket would be tested in a super­sonic wind tunnel. Amaz­ingly, when I asked my super­visor is this was true, he non­cha­lantly said, “Yea, do you want to watch?” NASA Langley’s campus is an inter­ac­tive aero­nau­tics exhibit. Wind tun­nels line the main road, heli­copters and jets circle the skies around the air force base and people walk the side­walks with flight hard­ware in hand.

‘The research phi­los­ophy is con­sis­tently, “Play around with it,” or “Figure it out.” While this is a daunting idea at first, it is in large part respon­sible forNASA’s cul­ture of inno­va­tion and explo­ration. Dis­cov­eries are often made that would have been out of the scope of a tra­di­tional task. Researchers are espe­cially quick to incor­po­rate stu­dents in their projects. Interns can con­sis­tently be seen shuf­fling to and from labs, some­times in dis­be­lief of the tech­nology they just witnessed.

‘The past seven weeks has been more than an intern­ship, it has been the fullNASA expe­ri­ence. The true value of working at Lan­gley lies in meeting people and learning about the his­tory of the center. I’ve learned to ask everyone I meet, “What was it like working on that project?”, and lis­tening to what­ever is on their mind.

Such an expe­ri­ence rein­forces the notion of con­tin­uous edu­ca­tion. From start to end, stu­dents are exposed to not only fin­ished tech­nology, but the know-​​how and mindset nec­es­sary to become a pio­neer and inno­vator in a tech­ni­cally demanding field.  Ten weeks well spent.”

Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering