NASA Team Focuses V.I. Students on the Stars

Student's at Educational Complex listen to the NASA Exploration Ground Systems Team. (Elisa McKay photo)
Student’s at Educational Complex listen to the NASA Exploration Ground Systems Team. (Elisa McKay photo)
The NASA Exploration Ground Systems team, from left, William Koenig, Lester Morales, Mary Hanna and Genger Benson-Peres, visit St. Croix Educational Complex. (Elisa McKay photo)
The NASA Exploration Ground Systems team, from left, William Koenig, Lester Morales, Mary Hanna and Genger Benson-Peres, visit St. Croix Educational Complex. (Elisa McKay photo)

A team from the Kennedy Space Center traveled throughout the Virgin Islands territory last week, speaking at schools and encouraging students 16 years and older to apply for the NASA summer internship.

The Exploration Ground Systems experts spoke and offered presentations to the audience at the packed St. Croix Educational Complex High School auditorium Thursday morning. SCEC Principal Genitta Richards welcomed the students from across St. Croix: St. Joseph High School, Arthur Richards Jr. High School, St. Mary’s Catholic School, St. Patrick’s School and the Educational Complex.

“Many of you may have an interest in many of these fields,” Richards said, “and there are quite a bit of them. There might be some individuals in the audience who would like to pursue these careers. You certainly have the brilliance, the temperament and the capacity to do so.”

Richards encouraged the students to sit back and listen intently and to formulate questions they might have for the presenters.

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Asel Mustafa, a University of the Virgin Islands student and NASA intern in public relations and communications told the audience she is able to interview and write about her assignments with scientists working within the agency. Mustafa encouraged the students to consider applying for the summer internship at NASA. Applications must be completed by April 1.

St. Mary's Catholic School students take their place in the Educational Complex auditorium to hear from the NASA team. (Elisa McKay photo)
St. Mary’s Catholic School students take their place in the Educational Complex auditorium to hear from the NASA team. (Elisa McKay photo)

Mary Hanna, a senior technical integration manager in the EGS program. Exploration Ground Systems develops and operates the systems and facilities necessary to process and launch rockets and spacecraft.

“I have a degree in mechanical engineering and in construction with a contractor’s license. I like construction,” she said.

But Hanna said NASA isn’t just looking for “rocket scientists.” There are a multitude of opportunities students can explore, she said.

Hanna showed a map of the many centers throughout the United States and the different countries that produce and supply the parts that go into building the rockets.

“There are many elements and stages that take place for a mobile launcher,” Hanna said. “We build, launch and recover in the new space center.”

William Koenig is the project lead in the Orion program, the project developing the next generation of manned space vehicles. Before being hired by NASA, Koenig worked on ships and oil tankers for the Hess Oil Refinery. He has been at NASA for 12 years, and is responsible for the transportation, fabrication and checkout of the Orion spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center.

Lester Morales is surrounded by questioning students after his team's presentation. (Elisa McKay photo)
Lester Morales is surrounded by questioning students after his team’s presentation. (Elisa McKay photo)

Dr. Lester Morales is the Education Specialist with the NASA STEM Program. He kept audience members on their toes, asking them questions about what they had seen and heard from the previous presenters. Many of the students raised their hands to answer his questions.

Morales was encouraging with their responses.

“We want NASA to be part of your 10 top places to apply for employment,” he said. “We want to be part of your options. If you are 16 years or older, you can apply for a summer internship. Whatever your career interests are, there can be an opportunity for you.”

Morales urged the students to consider the importance of this generation’s interest in NASA. If there is no interest, he said, there would be no NASA.

“There will be no expedition to Mars,” he said.

Many students took Morales to heart and began asking questions about careers in their chosen field, and he assured them there could be opportunities in communications, science, construction, education and many other fields.

“Will we come in contact with scientists during an internship?” “Yes,” Morales replied. “Is there a biology internship or a psychology internship?” “Yes, there is a study on human biology at Johns Hopkins and also in California. … A psychology team prepares you for a psychology internship.”

Morales shared information about salaries for internships at the high school, undergraduate, graduate master and graduate doctorate levels. Salaries for astronauts and scientists were shared. The students were impressed.

NASA – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – is the federal agency responsible for the civilian space program, aeronautics and aerospace research. NASA was established in 1958.

Information for NASA internships is available at NASA’s website. Applications are due by April 1.

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