Dreaming of a Bright Future in Space? Check out NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars Program.

May 18, 2017

Around this time last year, I was a History major at Illinois Central College (ICC) in Peoria, IL, and was struggling to find passion in what I was doing in school. I was in Community College and couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t doing as much as my high school classmates who were at “real” colleges. I felt like I wasn’t doing as much as a 19 year old should be doing. Because of this, my grades were slipping and I wasn’t doing as well at work. I was in a funk. It wasn’t until September of last year, while I was all but sleeping my way through Physics 110, that I heard about a NASA program for community college students. It was called NCAS, which stands for NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars. My Physics teacher, Professor V, told us about this program, and it’s benefits, but none of us were interested. I mean, I was a History major, what did NASA need with me? A few weeks later, however, a middle-aged man named Matt came and spoke with us about the program. He said that he had come to ICC to continue his education at the age of 40. He had heard about his opportunity from Professor V as well, and decided to apply even though his grades weren’t that great. There are small but easily attainable eligibility requirements as stated on their website: U.S. citizenship High school graduate or equivalent and at least 18 years of age Registered at a U.S. community college during the semester of the onsite workshop Concurrent enrollment or completion of 9+ hours of STEM coursework Able to commit to a 5-week online session Internet access Letter of Recommendation Matt was accepted into the program and after 5 grueling weeks of online work, was accepted into the onsite experience at NASA. Then, he applied to NASA for an internship after, and was accepted. “At 45,” he said, “I never thought I would leave Peoria again, and now I’m working for NASA, and they’re paying for me to move there.” This intrigued me. If Matt could do it achieve dreams he never knew he had at 45, imagine what I could do at 19. So, I applied. However, the teacher who I had asked to write my recommendation never got back to me after promising to write my letter. I didn’t know what to do. Luckily for me, the people at NASA gave me a 15-day extension to get my letter. I contacted my Anatomy and Physiology teacher from high school, who sympathized with my situation and gladly wrote me a letter, on the promise that I let her know how it went, of course. So, in January of 2017, I began the NCAS course online. The course consisted of 3 sections, each with 2 subsections. The subsections had a lot of links, articles, and videos to look at and study. Each subsection took anywhere from 3-5 hours to finish. Then, at the end, there was a 10-question quiz. Thankfully, we could take the quizzes an infinite amount of times. To pass the course, you had to get at least a 90% on each quiz. I made sure I took them until I got a 100% on each quiz, because I figured if I was going to impress my family and friends by taking this course, I wanted to say I gave it my all. At the end of the course, there was a final project due. You could pick between 3 topics: The Evolvable Mars Campaign: Prepare a 6-7 page paper that responds to any three (3) of a series of questions. Plan a Robotic Rover Mars Mission: Write an abstract (brief summary) of the robotic rover Mars mission. The abstract provides an overview of the goals and objectives of the mission. List and explain at least one overall goal and (three) 3 supporting objectives of the mission. The abstract should be between 300 – 600 words. Mars Rover Design: Design the next NASA Mars rover. Use creative and innovative ideas to make an original, unique and purposeful rover design. This included a 3-D graphic design with labels and parts clearly drawn, as well as a paper detailing the rover specs. I chose to do #3, because drawing was what I was good at, and I loved design. Looking back, however, I think I would have done best at #2. I love managing and planning, and now think that would have been a better fit. I submitted my project just two minutes before the deadline. As soon as I pressed that button, all I could think about was all the things I forgot to include, and all the things that I should have done better. I didn’t think that I would get into the onsite experience, not when my work was not as good as I wanted it to be. But I did get in, and it was amazing. My mother was so proud of me. She told all my aunts, her friends, and even posted about it on Facebook. Now, my mother is Irish and Native American, we don’t really say the word “proud” out loud or express a lot of emotion, so I really knew my mother was honored to have a daughter going to NASA. About a month later, we found out our flight itineraries, and were ready to go. Thankfully, all we had to pay was a $30 check for our team color polo. Other than that, NASA paid for everything; the flight, hotel, and food. The only other thing that we needed to pay for was our souvenirs. Plus, we got plenty of snacks. On April 10, me and my boyfriend Shawn (who also got into the program), headed for John Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. I know what you’re thinking, “Cleveland? There’s a NASA in Cleveland?” Yes, and it’s amazing. They boast the loudest room in the world and the longest microgravity tunnel (510 feet). When, we arrived at Cleveland International Airport there waiting for us were 3 NASA reps to take us on a shuttle to the hotel. Now, we were among the last to arrive, so as soon as we got to the hotel, we had to drop our luggage and head straight to John Glenn Research Center. Most of the other scholars had been there for hours, and had already gotten to know one another. So, Shawn and I were left to get to know our teams on the ride there. When we finally got to set foot on NASA grounds, we were taken to an auditorium and introduced to Robert La Salvia, Chief, Office of Education at NASA GRC (Glenn Research Center), who welcomed us to NASA and commended us on our hard work in the NCAS course. We were also introduced to Vanessa Webbs, Internship Project Manager at NASA GRC, who told us a bit about the internship programs at NASA GRC, and how we could apply. We then had a guest speaker, Danielle Griffin, who works with Technical & Quality Audit Lead, come speak to us about her NASA journey. She began as a summer intern who was unhappy with the internship program. She spoke up to her supervisors about how she wasn’t learning the way that she was being taught. Her supervisors didn’t like that, so they placed her with someone who was a better fit to teach her. She then went on to bounce all around NASA, trying different kinds of work, eventually landing in T&Q, where she is happy. She told us that she thought that if she hadn’t spoken up, she wouldn’t be where she is today. Danielle also told us that she was happy with the way NASA had tried their best to make both parties happier in the workplace, and to help Danielle find the best place for her. We were then introduced to Kevin Biddell, who was the facilitator of the onsite experience. Basically, he ran the whole thing and managed to keep 45 college students on time. After being accepted into the onsite experience, we were given team colors and were tasked with creating a company before arriving at NASA. My team was the Gold Team, and consisted of 10 other people. We ended up coming up with the name Gold Standard Aerospace Company and our motto was “Go With Gold.” We were given a $6 million dollar budget for the onsite experience. After Danielle gave her speech, we had an introduction to the LEGO EV3 kit. Basically, it's a $500+ LEGO kit with a motor. We were shown how to program the EV3 to do basic movements, and then were tasked with making it draw our logo. We thought our logo would be easy to draw, since it was just a G with an arrow in the middle of it. We found that this was not the case. First, we had to jerry-rig the EV3 to hold a marker, and to do that we had to tie it with a LOT of tape and rubber bands. Then, we had to program the rover with the EV3 program. It took a bit of trial and error, but eventually we got a symbol similar to a G. It was great practice for the Rover we would be building for our final projects and competitions. We also came up with a set of Team Values that we could use to work together better even though we didn’t know one another at all. We came up with “WOOSH” (Work-ethic, Open Mindedness, Optimism, Synergy, and Honesty), and we vowed to “blow them away.” Finally, at 9 pm, after a long day, we had dinner, and departed to the hotel. Now, we thought Day 1 was long and difficult. We had no idea what we were in for with Day 2. We had to wake up at 6 am, leave the hotel by 7 am, and when we arrived we were given our Project Overview, which was a portfolio and timeline of our project and competition that we would be doing for the next three days. We also figured out our team positions. I was the Project Manager, which means that I oversaw the entire project. I worked with the designers, engineers, and programmers during the whole project and was the only contact between the team and Headquarters (who were like our judges, but not for the competitions, for everything else that we did). We met our Team Mentors, who were actual employees of NASA that were going to help us build our Rover and keep us on track with the project. Gold Team’s mentors were John and Stefani, and let me tell you, we couldn’t have done it without them. Their expertise and helpful insights really helped our project come together. After being introduced to our mentors, we were dismissed to our team rooms for a few hours to work on designing and building our rover because we had a competition later that day. You read right, folks, we mere college students were tasked with designing, building, programming, and budgeting a Rover to move and collect things all within the space of about 5 hours. It was very stressful. Now, Gold Team went head-to-head with the Navy Team. We couldn’t cross into the other team’s territory and we had to collect as many rocks as we could within the space of 10 minutes. Different sizes of rocks we worth different amounts of money. It would then go toward our budget for the competition the following day for any modifications we wanted to make. We had 2 minutes to test, 2 to make any corrections, and 10 to do the actual competition. If the Rover gets stuck on the course before returning to home base, you get a 30 second penalty. If it goes past the boundaries, 30 second penalty. Right off the back, we got a penalty of 2 million dollars because we were still downloading our program when the timer went off. Then, about 3 or 4 minutes in, our robotic arm fell off! Now, according to the rules, we were done for, competition over. Luckily, the Navy Team also had a malfunction before the time was up, so the judges let us make adjustments for a later-determined penalty (which ended up being another 2 million dollars in penalties). Then (as shown below) our Rover, which we lovingly named Exodus, began working amazingly. You can probably hear us screaming in the background we’re so excited to be back in the race. https://twitter.com/gsa_NCAS/status/851897638727405571 Watch Video By the end of the race, we’d won 124 million, but with the 4 million dollars in penalties, we ended up with an extra 120 million dollars to our budget. We’d thought we did the worst, but it turned out that we did the best for the first challenge. As Project Manager, I had to turn in Progress Reports, a Statement of Work, an Organization Chart of our team’s positions, and our company name, logo, and motto to Headquarters. I had to present our teams case, and talk about our hopes for future projects (theoretically) and treat the project like an actual company. After the challenge, we had dinner and got to meet Nicole Smith, the Project Manager for Orion Testing at Plum Brook Station for the Orion Spacecraft. We the debriefed for the next day and departed to the hotel after a 13-hour day. Now, they told us to get some sleep when we returned to our hotel, but all the teams spent at least 3 hours at the hotel planning for the next day. My roommate Connie and I were the Project Manager and the Marketing Manager, so we had to stay up even later to work in our room after everyone left. We were the ones who got barely any sleep. I think we averaged 3 hours a night. It was brutal, but I loved every minute of it. As with the day before, we had to be awake by 6, and out the door by 7. We had another project overview, and then went on a tour of the NASA facilities (Pictures below), and then got to visit the gift shop. Then lunch, and then we went straight back to our team rooms and were back to work adjusting the rover and improving it for that day’s competition. Thankfully, we did not have nearly as much trouble with our Rover during the second competition. With this competition, the rules were still the same, but mini LEGO pieces were added to the course and were worth a LOT more money. So, we went for those. At the end of that competition, which you can see a fast-forwarded version of here (https://twitter.com/NASAglenn/status/852285270833721344), we made a profit of 294 million dollars, with no penalties! After this, our second progress report was due, and we had dinner and went back to the hotel after another 13-hour day. As with the day before, we worked on our final presentation for a few hours after we got back to the hotel, and then went to sleep. The last day was the most stressful, even though it was the shortest. We had a few hours to put together final touches on our presentation. All 11 of us had to speak, and it had to be under 10 minutes. We were a little nervous about that. We all had made such amazing contributions to the project, and we got about an average of 30 seconds to speak because me, the main engineer, programmer, and marketing manager had to speak the most because we were the heads of our divisions. Luckily, we pulled it together. We did, however, go over about 2 minutes and got knocked down a few points. We then had an awards ceremony, where we got certificates of achievement. Each team picked an MVP. We picked Eric, our chief engineer. He had the most insight and was like the Dad of the group, bringing the chaos together when we were all talking at once. He helped us work together more efficiently and we couldn’t have done as well without him. Finally, we got to learn who won the competition. It was us, Gold Team for the win! It was so exciting. From the beginning, we were so unsure of our ability to work as a team when we didn’t know one another. I was especially stressed being project manager. I didn’t think I had what it took, it was so much responsibility. Thankfully, I managed to do a good job and help my team. Also, being in my position, I got to learn so much. I didn’t know anything about design or programming when I got there, and overseeing the whole team, the members who did know helped me learn about it. This whole journey has helped me realize what I want to do with my life. While taking the online class, I changed my major to engineering and aerospace technology. Then, while working as project manager, I added marketing and business to my long list of interests. This experience even helped me get this job! And I love it. NASA also had us sign up for internships we were interested in and let us meet other NASA interns so we could see what they did. I learned so much from this experience. And the best thing? It only cost me $30! The class was free, and so was my flight tickets, hotel, and food. I only had to pay for souvenirs while I was there. The $30 was just for our team color polo. NASA paid for everything else. I didn’t even think I could get into a program like this. My grades weren’t that great, I wasn’t gifted in science, and I wasn’t confident in my ability to do well in this field. Now, I’m happy in a great job, great school, and am ready to one day work for NASA if they’ll take me. This was such a wonderful experience and I think every person in community college should try it. Even if STEM might not be for you, this experience and title itself look great for colleges, and it is so much fun. I met over 40 new people and friends that I still talk to, and got to make professional connections in a professional setting. I hope any community college students reading this take the opportunity to sign up for the fall session at https://nas.okstate.edu/ncas/ and become an NCAS scholar. This could change your life, or just be a fun thing to test yourself with. Either way, do it for yourself, because it could help you in ways you never thought. Written by Staff Writer Dusty Langdon Dusty is a community college student who lives in Peoria, Il. She is a NASA Community College Aerospace Scholar (NCAS), and has always loved space, math, and learning new languages. When not writing for our blog, Dusty spends her time writing stories, reading, watching television, and hanging out with friends.

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Seriously Scary Stars – Supernovas

May 17, 2017

One of my favorite parts about writing for Star Letters is that I get to spend time researching one of the most beautiful places that humanity has ever had the privilege of seeing. The beauty of space, however, does not negate the fact that the universe is a dangerous place. It is filled with all sorts of gases and elements that can cause deadly explosions. Supernovas are the biggest kind of explosions in our universe. Occurring at the end of a star’s life cycle, supernovas hurtle elements, debris, and cosmic rays across space, which can be used to form new stars, planets, or any other thing that exists in the universe. They are incredibly helpful to scientists who want to learn more about how the universe is formed but are also, according to a recent article from EarthSky, “destructive on a scale beyond human imagining.” And, they might just become deadly at a distance greater than what scientist had previously thought. A group of researchers, led by Adrian Melott from the University of Kansas, stated in a paper accepted for publication in the Astrophysics Journal, that a previous group of researchers “estimated the ‘kill zone’ for a supernova in a paper in 2003, and they came up with about 25 light years from Earth.” However, Melott’s research team now believes that a supernova could become deadly at 50 light-years away. This conclusion has come from previous research done on a supernova that is estimated to have taken place 2.6 million years ago. From the data gathered, researchers believe that a series of supernovas dramatically cooled the Earth down, leading to the most recent ice ages and may have “contributed to changes in atmosphere and habitats in Africa…” The supernova was believed to have taken place 150-light years away from Earth. This explosion was close enough to Earth to impact the planet would be the equivalent of receiving a few CT scans a year – not lethal but enough to “increase the incidence of cancer in animals.” Cosmic rays may also have increased the ionization of the atmosphere, leading to more lightning, wildfires and the potential destruction of forests in Africa. Using these numbers from that research, scientists have been able to estimate at what distance a supernova could cause mass extinction here on Earth. Melott, in a statement about the paper, said, “we don’t know precisely, and of course, it wouldn’t be a hard cut off distance. But we think something more like 40 or 50 light years.” Despite this scary news people have no reason to become alarmed. Our sun, which is only eight light-minutes away from our planet, does not have enough mass to become a supernova. The closest star that might go off, Betelgeuse, is 600 light-years away. It appears as though we are safe from harm…for now. Written by Staff Writer Becca Brunner             Becca is a recent college graduate who lives in Tampa, Florida. From a young age, she has been fascinated by the stars and how beautiful the universe is. When she’s not writing for our blog, she can be found reading the latest YA novel, catching up on Dr. Who, or just hanging out with friends in coffee shops.   Photo Credit: NASA  

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A New Dimension of Health

May 16, 2017

I wish I knew then what I know now. Don’t we all wish that? My first husband died of colon cancer ten years ago. At the time he was only 35 years old. I wish I could tell him all the things I learned about health after he passed. Even though at the time we did everything we could with what we had to get him better, what I know now would have taken us into a new dimension of health. Imagine if one day we could believe that our thoughts and emotions interact with our physiology. And ultimately accept the possibility that we can heal our own physical bodies. If this is done collectively it permits a new kind of medicine. Medicine that is directed by the patient through the observer effect. What if you could heal yourself because of the power of your mind? And I can see what your brain is doing right now. It is already rejecting this possibility. Stay strong my friend. Our brain likes to reject anything that makes it work over time. Therefore it will immediately reject the notion of the inner power of a healing modality that lives inside of you. The brain is saying no to this because we are requiring it to create new brain maps. Secondly, we are asking the brain to visit places outside of this three-dimensional reality. To do this, well you know it is not considered easy by your brain. It is considered fake and impossible. But there are many new ways to do medicine and of course ultimately to do life. First, we have to make a very small space for this observer effect possibility. And I mean small, like maybe one daily thought of the possibility that this could be true. That is all I am asking for. One new thought for your mind which is to consider the option that we are not just a biological machine. The observer/consciousness element is part of the body. The body cannot remove the disease if the self/observer does not believe that the medicine can heal. You see, there is no doubt anymore that your mind to put it simply can influence your body’s well-being. Consciousness is not inside the brain. It is local yes, but also non-local. It is here and there at the same time. It is in 3D and in other dimensions. But above all, it lives outside of time and space visiting this reality while we are in our body. I know what I am asking you to consider is unconventional and not a regular thinking experience but...remember it is one thought that I am asking you to change. Instead of thinking that you are not able to make your body healthy again think that you could be. That is all. A possibility of self-healing. And if you are courageous I am going to ask for one more step. To send your consciousness to observe an area of your body that feels unhealthy. Observe that area in its healthy state. Stay there as long as you can. We need to collectively come together in this possibility of creating health for ourselves. We need to believe it not just as individuals but collectively so we can change the collective belief that our bodies are just biological. They are not. They are here in this holographic universe but can be accessed from another dimension through the observer effect. According to Einstein matter and energy are one and the same. If we used that as our truth, medicine would ultimately stop trying to heal disease the way it has in the last century. It would apply the holographic principle which says that every piece contains the information of the whole. According to an exceptional book called Vibrational Healing “all matter, both physical and subtle has frequency. The etheric and physical bodies, being of different frequencies overlap and coexist within the same space. The acupuncture meridian system is a discretely organized network of microscopic ducts which connects the physical with the etheric body forming the so called physical/etheric interference.” And if you feel that this all speaks to you find a good local acupuncturist and make your way there. I have been going to an acupuncturist weekly for the last 6 months and I have felt so much better. My digestion is better. My energy is ten times better. And above all the biggest surprise was joy. I am happier. I never expected this last part. This Star Letter was brought to you for one reason and one reason only to open your mind to the possibility that we have more power and control over our bodies and minds that we have ever imagined. We hold the key to our own healing. And last but not least we need to come to this knowing collectively so our deep beliefs of helplessness can shift and allow our humanity to advance towards a longer life with more lessons and learnings. Imagine if we could live to be 500 or even 1000 years old, the advances we could bring forth with the wisdom we have garnered. This Star Letter may appear insignificant in nature but if I have it my way it would travel inside your old beliefs and challenge them one thought at a time. Without the collective universal mind evolving as a whole we can’t get far. We need you and me and everyone else to do this. Belief is the first and final frontier towards our evolution. Once we believe it is possible, then it will be. (Click to Tweet!) Christina Rasmussen is the creator and founder of The Life Reentry® Institute, Second Firsts, The Life Starters and Star Letters. Christina is on a crusade to help millions of people rebuild, reclaim, and relaunch their lives using the power of their own minds. Christina’s work has been featured on ABC News, NPR, The White House Blog, and MariaShriver.com. She is the bestselling author of Second Firsts: Live, Laugh, and Love Again, which has also been translated in Chinese and German and is currently working on her second book on expanding the mind in ways that allows co creation with the forces of the universe. She is also writing her first work of fiction: a science fiction story about a woman on a quest to start over and begin a new life.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Universe

May 9, 2017

“I am worried about you Christina, I love your other work and I won’t stop reading you there but this? Well, I have to unsubscribe from here.” someone wrote to me the other day. “I wish you the very best.” she concluded. She has not been the only one who has written these type of letters to me. I have had others. Not many but still enough to wonder why. At first, I found it really hard to understand why would someone unsubscribe from a blog about the stars. It made no sense, not even a little. And sometimes that is all I need, to understand something just a little. But this was hard to figure out. You see to me the stars have all the answers. They are always watching over us and no matter what happens in our lives they are there every night. I started looking at the stars more and more when I had a bad day. I would go outside and sit on my chair and just look at them. I would always cry at first but then something would take me over and I would find my way to the bigger picture of my life. It was almost as if time stood still and I could look at everything from a place outside of time. I felt safe sitting out there. And I knew I was not alone. Slowly I started to learn more about our universe as I read books to understand where we came from. I read about the Big Bang, the String Theory and all the different possible dimensions we have but can’t see. And the more I read the more I wanted to read. One thing that I discovered was that stars were not simple things. Some of these books were difficult to read. You had to read some pages over and over again. But of course, that didn’t stop me it just helped me understand why some people felt that the cosmos was not something they wanted to know more of. Maybe the emails I got from some of my readers had to do with the complexity of the cosmos and how it felt foreign to them. All I knew was that I had to find a way to get people connected with our sky more. I truly believe that there is so much joy and calm that can come from the stars and from knowing how big our universe is. One of my favorite authors is Neil deGrasse Tyson. I have never met him. But have seen him on TV many times. He has a way about him. He gets to talk about our universe in ways that allow us to understand it better. He just released a new book called Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. He starts the book with this sentence and it gives us such perspective: “In the beginning, nearly fourteen billion years ago, all the space and all the matter and the energy of the known universe was contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the period that ends this sentence.” Now that is one way to get our attention. I mean think about this. We were so small, almost invisible. Almost non-existent and then boom we became larger than anything we can imagine. Neil deGrasse Tyson continues to write like this throughout his whole book. He talks about dark energy, the elements, the billions of galaxies and of course he mentions how life possibly started on Mars. “Collectively these findings tell us that life started on Mars and later seeded life on earth a process known as panspermia.” I know these are big claims but he backs them up with findings. He doesn’t stop there he continues his relentless description of our universe including what it means to have a cosmic perspective. Being able to see our existence from another vantage point. A cosmic one. “The cosmic perspective enables us to see beyond our circumstances, allowing us to transcend our primal search for food, shelter and a mate.” (Click to Tweet!) He asks us to continue being curious and to always seek to explore beyond this earth and this galaxy. For there is so much more out there for us to discover. Thank you, Neil deGrasse Tyson, for spending your life on Earth helping us all understand our universe a little better. And as for those of you out there that all of this is still a little too much to grasp please before you go to bed tonight just take a look at the stars on top of your house and imagine a bigger world that awaits you. Christina Christina Rasmussen is the creator and founder of The Life Reentry® Institute, Second Firsts, The Life Starters and Star Letters. Christina is on a crusade to help millions of people rebuild, reclaim, and relaunch their lives using the power of their own minds. Christina’s work has been featured on ABC News, NPR, The White House Blog, and MariaShriver.com. She is the bestselling author of Second Firsts: Live, Laugh, and Love Again, which has also been translated in Chinese and German and is currently working on her second book on expanding the mind in ways that allows co creation with the forces of the universe. She is also writing her first work of fiction: a science fiction story about a woman on a quest to start over and begin a new life.

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