JSC Student competes for NASA

When asked what they want to be when they grow up, a fair number of children will respond enthusiastically that they want to be an astronaut. But how likely is that to actually happen?
As it turns out, the opportunities to get steps closer to that goal can be found fairly easily if one looks for them.

Daniel Hill, JSC senior and pre-medical biology student, applied and got accepted to participate in a NASA competition in Houston, Texas.

Hill came across the opportunity on the VSC portal, where he saw a one-line banner for it as an ad by CCV. Professor of Environmental and Health Sciences Les Kanat recommended him for the competition.

The contest itself began with a five-week online course in which the participants designed a 3D rover model. Students who scored well in the online course took a trip to NASA for a three-day workshop, where they formed teams to build and program their rover models. Each team then had to complete challenges with the rover, including collecting simulated Mars rock samples and bringing them back to their “home base.”

Hill’s group was the only group to pass both of the challenges they were given. He, along with other participants, now qualifies for an internship at NASA.

“It wasn’t just a competition; they were looking for possible new talent,” Hill said. “When I first arrived there, they said, ‘think of this as a job interview.’”
The groups who participated in the workshop were also able to go on a tour of the NASA space station in Houston.

According to Hill, it was a rigorous event; their daily schedule began at 5 a.m. and didn’t conclude until midnight.

The work involved was well worth the payoff, however, as this field of work is something Hill has always been interested in.

“I’ve always been interested in science and stuff,” Hill said. “I always enjoyed doing projects with science and rovers, and this is kind of in my field of interest, because I’ve always been interested in outer space.”

Even though Hill said that the opportunity to work with NASA would be amazing, that’s not the only job opportunity he’s open to.

“I’m trying to get into laboratory research of some type,” Hill said. “Bio-tech, laboratory work… I want to be able to do research, either assisting with someone’s research while doing my own, or doing my own research too. My current interest with NASA is that I would like to go up into space and do hydroponic experiments, seeing what the potential for growing crops in outer space is.”

He said that, expenses permitting, he would like to continue his education, but would also like to explore other opportunities.

Overall, one of the most important lessons Hill learned from this experience is that you don’t have to stay in Vermont for work, and that there are opportunities out there in your field if you put in the effort to look for them.

“I’ve known so many people who just get despondent about their life, and they’re not doing the job they want,” Hill said. “You have to actually put the effort forward to go anywhere. It’s not like you can just expect someone to hand you something.”

Hill said that the only bad experience he had was that there was a woman in his group who had a phobia of elevators, and the contest administrators couldn’t make accommodations for her.
“That, and it was like 100 degrees,” he joked.

Even if the heat was bad, Hill enjoyed the experience of being in the south for the second time in his life, as well as meeting new people.

“I would say meeting the people in my group and everything was the best experience, and just interacting with them,” Hill said. “And seeing the Southern culture too, because we arrived right around Mardi Gras.”
Hill has almost completed his JSC degree program requirements. He has to fulfill one more presentation requirement, which he will do on Oct. 22 when he holds an exhibition about his experience at NASA.