As mentioned in a previous blog post (“Manchester this is Houston. Do you copy?”) Sam and I spent 10 weeks of our summer at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston Texas partaking in a graduate internship program. However, during our time in Houston, the internship was not the only activity we managed to fit in. Here is a rundown of some of the other things we got up to:
We were fortunate enough that during our time in Houston the Scottish rugby team were also over in order to face-off against the USA Eagles. Having secured tickets a large number of us interns spent a great evening watching the match, taking in the atmosphere and enjoying one of Houston’s fabulous new stadiums. Unfortunately the result was not what some hoped for (being Scottish I was sorely disappointed!) but it was a great night and our seats right next to the pitch made it well worth it!
Keeping on the theme of sport, during our stay we also managed to find time to go to a baseball game. The Houston Astros were playing the Detroit Tigers and it was great to see the Astros come out on top and how enthused all the fans were by their victory. Again the Minute Maid stadium was an impressive sight and although our seats were very high up we had a great view of all the action. Our lofty seating also meant we were in a great position to watch the Disney firework show that followed the game. It was set to Disney music and was a wonderful way to finish off an enjoyable evening.
Also during the summer the Houston symphony performed “Apollo 13 in Concert”. They played the films soundtrack while we watched it on the big screen and it was a wonderful way to enjoy such an iconic movie in such close proximity to where the events portrayed took place nearly 50 years ago. Also as part of the evening there was a pre-concert panel discussion featuring 3 NASA engineers from the Apollo 13 era – Spencer H. Gardner, Bernard Rosenbaum and Chester A. “Chet” Vaughan – and the current director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center – Mark S. Geyer. Hearing their insights into current and past NASA missions, innovations and breakthroughs was fascinating and a very special experience.
One event attended which was slightly more relevant to our internship was a tour of the Stardust Lab at Johnson Space Centre (JSC) where grains from the comet Wild-2 are curated. These cometary grains were collected as the Stardust probe flew through the comets tail and trapped them in a material called silica aerogel. This super low density material allowed the grains to survive the high speeds of impact and subsequently they were brought back to JSC to be examined and analysed.
On another trip to JSC we got the opportunity to see the Orion test vehicle which will be used to test the Ascent Abort system on board NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS). This aims to jettison Orion from the SLS during lift off if there is a problem and is hoping to make Orion the safest crew launching vehicle ever. It will be tested in 2019 and then hopefully implemented in the further stages of SLS development.
One of the last trips to JSC we were lucky enough to be included in was to see the crew vehicles which are currently being designed by different companies hoping to be involved in transporting people to space. We saw NASA’s Orion up close, Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. All the designs were impressive and it was enlightening to see how many different designs could be utilised in the tricky task of transporting humans to space.
However, despite all these wonderful outings and experiences, we were still in Houston to do some work! And all of the hard work of 10 weeks culminated in the 2 groups of interns presenting their findings and progress to LPI staff members, visiting scientists and engineers from JSC and NASA executives. The presentations went very well and were well received with some interesting questions being posed by the audience. I think I can speak for all the interns when I say the experience was well worth all the hours spent in the LPI library and that it was comforting to see how interested in our work the audience was and how it may be used in the future to inform and further lunar exploration.
Both Sam and I would finally like to thank everyone at the LPI for the fantastic opportunity to be a part of the internship. We would also like to thank all the other interns for making the summer so pleasant. And lastly we would like to thank the city of Houston for being so welcoming and for being a great place to spend 10 weeks of the year!