Before the storm
On March 6, the NASA agency had a teleworking test day to understand if operations could continue or if the centers had to close down due to COVID-19. At the time, interns could not work from home, so all of us went in. I don’t think anyone understood the uncertainty and we all kept on with our spaceflight operations. The next week (Texas A&M’s spring break), I left for a conference in Montana and when I came back, my internship was completely changed. For a few days, we were unsure if we would have a job until some modifications were made for interns to continue through the term.
The new reality
On March 17, NASA had another teleworking test day and the centers haven’t opened since. At Johnson Space Center, home of the mission control center, personnel on console (monitoring the International Space Center) still have to go into work. Simulation teams working on tools and learning for the upcoming missions have mostly halted. There is no doubt schedules will be pushed back for several NASA programs. Some teams have even shifted to 3D printing mask holders and fighting coronavirus in other ways.
Moving forward with uncertainty
Our team, the Flight Integration division, still has an intern going in every week so we can continue work on displays for the Boeing Starliner missions. We’ve made a lot of progress and have been able to use platforms like Microsoft Teams to collaborate. At first, it was very frustrating as people learned to adapt to their new normal. There was a lot of misinformation going around, people weren’t responding to emails as quickly, and overall there was a ton of stress. NASA has large goals and responsibilities, so revising the work-life balance was pivotal. Yet now, it’s easy to see the benefits of working from home.
The good parts
I am now able to say I listened to virtual lectures from an astronaut, flight director, and a NASA engineer with my puppies sitting next to me. Also, since I was not able to walk to the astronaut office, an astronaut called my personal cell phone with information on a report I was doing! My mentor and I formally meet once a week (and often talk once a day) and he keeps me busy. The majority of my projects relate to coding, so I can do them mostly anywhere. It’s not ideal to be working at NASA without the real face-to-face and sturdy handshake networking, but it’s nice to be safe at home in Dallas. I’m lucky to have been considered essential, and I have huge shoes to fill day-to-day. I also have more flexibility with when I can work and with what I can work in (sweats and t-shirts every day). Unfortunately, all summer internships will be virtual as well, and there is still no date for any center opening up.
Through all this adversity, NASA sure does live up to the Mars 2020 rover’s name: Perseverance.
NASA offers an array of internship opportunities for you to gain experience like Leah mentions above.