The Moon, Mars, & Moore

June 1, 2015

The first time Rebecca Moore ’15 landed on the moon, her execution was near impeccable. She eased down less than a meter away from her target. Countless flight hours helped prepare her for that. Now, heading into her second attempt, a last-minute change in the landing site has sent her careening off course and she is in for a rough landing. Fortunately, the lunar module she is piloting is easily reset and she’s back on Earth, ready for her next attempt in mere minutes. This time it’s a perfect landing—course change and all. Of course, this is not happening in the vacuum of space. Rather, it is all part of a simulator that Moore had the opportunity to pilot during her summer internship and part of a very real experience that was a dream come true for her. For 400 hours last summer, Moore was an intern at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where Neil Armstrong and many others were trained on lunar module test articles for the Apollo missions and where much of the organization’s aeronautical research takes place. In a place with so much history, she was hard at work on her future—contributing to the research of two big projects and taking advantage of every opportunity to form connections and learn from astronauts and aeronautics professionals. As a kid, space exploration always held a special interest for Moore, but it wasn’t until the summer before her senior year in high school that she decided she wanted to work for NASA someday. It was then that she was offered a chance to work with a team of professors and college students at RIT on a project funded by NASA. She contributed to research that focused on tracking coronal mass ejections from the sun to Earth to better understand their behavior and the impact that the radiation would have on a potential Mars colony. Her discovery of the subject matter set her on her current trajectory toward a future in aerospace engineering. “I’d love to be an astronaut, but if I can’t be the one blasting off into space, I want to do something that supports the people who do,” explains Moore. When it became time to select a college, she knew that she needed to find a program that would put her on a collision course with NASA. After a campus visit in which Moore was shown a video of Syracuse University students taking a ride on a zero-g aircraft (also known as the “vomit comet”), it became clear to her that SU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science could provide her with what she wanted in an academic program. Moore acclimated to her new life as an aerospace major in no time. She took full advantage of having access to the College’s Fidelity MOTUS 622i flight simulator through her Aircraft Performance and Dynamics course and “flew” every chance she could. She performed well in her classes and settled comfortably into life at SU with the support and mentoring of faculty and staff. Moore, a student so passionate about flight, was even named a Remembrance Scholar, in honor of the SU students who lost their lives in the downing of Pan Am 103, a tragedy that impacted the University tremendously. She had made great strides and accomplished a lot, but she wasn’t completely satisfied with all that. After all, she wasn’t at NASA yet. Her chance finally came when she met fellow aerospace engineer Cynthia Claudio '14, who had participated in an internship at Langley a year before. With the help of Gina Lee-Glauser, vice president of research at SU, she applied to the Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars Program. Lee-Glauser helped connect Moore with SU alumnus Marlyn Andino, ’06, ‘09 at NASA, where she was able to discuss possible projects. And then—she learned she was accepted. “It was amazing to me that access to this dream experience could be that easy,” says Moore. Moore didn’t know what to expect when she arrived at Langley, but she had a plan. “I knew I needed to take advantage of every moment and try to figure out what I wanted to do after I graduate. I needed to network and make connections. And I needed to use good time management skills to fit it all in.” The first project that Moore was assigned to was working on sweeping jet actuators, which help make an aircraft more aerodynamic in flight. The nature of the project left time for her to attend seminars, classes, and networking events at Andino’s suggestion. To her surprise, Moore found that she had landed in an environment as supportive as SU. Moore discovered that NASA was conducting a study related to something called the Radworks storm shelter. The project was working to develop new ways to protect astronauts from high levels of radiation from solar particle events, such as coronal mass ejections and solar flares. “I immediately saw the similarities to the program I was a part of in high school that ignited my interest in working with NASA.” In an action that demonstrates Moore’s drive, she researched the project and was able to make contact with one of its engineers. She was offered the opportunity to work on the project but hesitated because of her existing commitment to her mentor and branch. But Andino encouraged her to pursue her passion. Moore joined the Radworks study and spent the remainder of her internship working with a radiation protection simulation computer database in which she and the team identified how the objects and materials that are present in spacecraft and space stations can be used to shield astronauts from radiation. This study is important because engineers want to provide protection without adding mass to spacecraft. What better way to do this than to use the things that are already part of the spacecraft? For example, hydrogen-based materials are able to provide the best protection. Anyone who has ever taken a chemistry class knows that water is two parts hydrogen and, naturally, it is necessary that the astronauts have a rather substantial supply. The study proposed lining the astronauts’ sleeping quarters with bags of water, approximately two inches thick. When the amount of radiation increases during a solar event (which lasts on average ~36 hours), this provides a place to take cover that can shield them from up to 50 percent of the harmful particles that are able to penetrate the craft. Working on this study, along with the supportive nature of her mentors and her goal to form valuable connections, gave Moore a truly amazing, educational internship. Two things that she now knows for sure—that there is tremendous value in the relationships that we form during our education, and that passion can translate into success like she experienced at Langley. Whether her path leads to outer space or an actual landing on Mars remains to be seen. But, with strong technical knowledge, her open, willing-to-learn attitude, and the support of her mentors, you can bet that Rebecca Moore will make her mark on the aerospace industry.