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A Dream Come True

Dalton Kaua '19 lands his dream internship at NASA

In summer 2017, I had the incredible opportunity to work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as an intern. I first heard about the opportunity at a talk at Pacific given by alumna Lieutenant Commander Leedja Svec '01, who is now a colleague. She explained a program called the One Stop Shop Initiative (OSSI) through which a student can apply for an internship at NASA directly at or under the Department of the Navy.

I was really excited to hear about these opportunities. After the talk, I immediately went back to my dorm room and started looking at NASA's OSSI website. Through OSSI, college students can find internships and upload resumes, transcripts along with applications to internship positions they find interesting and related to their majors. I applied to 20 positions, all in an effort to secure an internship for the summer. 

After months of waiting, I finally received a notification that I had been selected for an internship.

It has always been a childhood dream of mine to work at NASA, so I immediately accepted the internship and anxiously waited for summer to come.

That feeling of excitement was similar to how I felt on the first day of college — a mix of nervousness and optimism.

When summer finally arrived, I began working at NASA Ames Research Center in the Silicon Valley under Lt. Cmdr. Svec. Through her interagency program, I was sent to work for Dr. Ved Chirayath at Ames' Laboratory for Advanced Sensing. While I was there, I primarily worked with two of their main novel instruments called MiDAR and FluidCam, and a large set of data they collected from a previous survey campaign. 

I was given the task of creating code to process the large dataset and producing telemetry from a drone's flight computer to pair with the dataset. The dataset combined with this telemetry is used to create an incredibly high-resolution three-dimensional model of a coastal coral reef system that can be used for a large number of different applications. In order to create the code to extract the telemetry data from the flight computer, I had to use the coding language, Python, a language I had no prior experience in. I used principles taught in my computer science classes to teach myself the basics of Python and was able to successfully create the code. 

A typical day, if there ever was one, usually included arriving at the office at eight o'clock in the morning and reading through Python documentation to learn new tools. Later, when my bosses arrived, they would usually have a small side task for me to help out with. If not, I'd work on developing my code and generally helping around the office. 

If I had to pick my favorite part about this internship experience, it would be marching with NASA in San Francisco's Pride Parade. It was such a fun time and definitely an experience I was not expecting to come from this internship. All in all, working at NASA over the summer was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and certainly the greatest summer I've ever had.