One student learned to cast a wide net when applying for internships, and it landed him in a NASA research facility.
Lucas Jones, a junior mechanical engineer major, was accepted to do research with NASA in terramechanics — a program that only 10 percent of applicants are accepted to.
“I didn’t ever think I wanted to do research and be cooped up all day, but it was so interesting,” Jones said. “To work in aerospace means you have to be willing to work hard and be engaged.”
Jones said the NASA application was standard to most, but he said that he applied early, which he advises more people to do. Brent O’Reilly, a junior mechanical engineer from Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University, agreed it was a good idea.
“Sometimes, businesses and employers are really slow in getting back to applicants for whatever reason,” O’Reilly said. “I would say it helps a lot to apply early.”
Jones and O’Reilly interned together in the same program. O’Reilly said they were thrown into the project, but Jones’ willingness to adapt and ask questions when he needed added to the experience for both of them.
Many aspects of the internship surprised Jones. He was assigned to work with the younger employees and interns, and the equipment he used was less than cutting-edge. He was also surprised to find that his workplace at NASA was not the futuristic playground he expected.
“Anything that still worked would get used if (NASA) had a need for it,” Jones said. “A lot of technology hasn’t changed much.”
However, most people don’t think of a warehouse with a tilting platform covered in lunar-simulant soil when they think NASA.
Jones’ job was two-fold. He was responsible for figuring out how to use software that tracked the movement of dots placed on a rover and to analyze the dynamics of those movements in 3-D space.
To most people, it sounds like Jones and his colleagues were playing with toy cars, but the work was real, cutting-edge research.
“We were testing mobility methods,” Jones said. “I looked at how the angle of attack affected slope climbing in this lunar soil.
Even though Jones was limited by time and tire material, the results of his one successful trial yielded surprising results: traveling straight was not the best way for the rover to move.
“You assume that going straight up would be more efficient, but surprisingly, it’s not,” Jones said.