Week Eight: Go on ALL the Tours!

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016


Maria McQuillan

This week was a week filled with tours. One tour this week was at NASA. All the SPS interns were able to explore all that Goddard has to offer. We saw the clean room where they are holding the new James Web Space Telescope, the Hubble control center, the giant sound testing chamber, the space environment simulating thermal chamber, and many other cool things.  The Hubble control center tour was one of my favorites. I had met the tour guide one day after work a few weeks ago and he was so kind and offered my friends and I a tour. It turns out he has been working on the Hubble project for 20 years and at one point had an SPS intern under his wing. He had so many cool stories about working in the Hubble control center, but my favorite was the one about one of the Hubble servicing missions. During this mission the astronauts had to remove a panel with 111 screws and not lose any in space. While they achieved this feat, the final stage of the mission was simply to remove 4 screws on a rail attached to the panel. On the last screw the astronaut striped the screw and could no longer use the tools to remove it. So, just as in Apollo 13 and the Martian, NASA got to work trying to figure out how to remove this handle. The solution was as simple as just brute force, rip the handle off, but just as the astronaut was going to perform this task, the satellite video feed cut off! This was not a technical error, but simply because NASA shares satellite time with other organizations and their time was up. Thankfully all went smoothly and the astronaut was able to bust the handle clean off the panel.

The Hubble Flight Control Room

We also had the SPS Capital tour this week. Here we saw a few offices of representatives and senators, sat in on a hearing on science policy, and were able to chat with a few people on science affiliated committees in congress. My favorite part about this tour was sitting in on the hearing. It was very neat seeing how public information is conveyed to government employees that are the heart of our legislative system.

Besides the SPS tours, this week at work was all about poster making. As the internship winds down to an end, all the interns must present on their summer research this upcoming week. Poster making is always a hoot. I get a break from the science and coding world to organize my work and do a bit of arts and crafts. After many many drafts I think I finally have a poster worthy to show.

While all the tours this week were very cool, the highlight of my week was the ceremony and announcement for the John Mather Nobel Scholarship awards. I am honored to say, I was chosen to receive this award and also attend the all day ceremony, which included yet another tour, but this time of the James Web Telescope control center. The scholarship allows me to travel and present my work at a conference of my choosing. I am hoping to attend the American Geophysical Union’s Annual meeting this Fall with this scholarship. The ceremony was absolutely wonderful. We were provided lunch, an opportunity to chat with past recipients of the scholarship and chat with the Nobel Laurite John Mather. I am so thankful to John Mather and the whole crew behind this scholarship. It was a wonderful experience and I can’t wait to present my research.

This weekend was filled with good friends, a few movies, and my first ever major league soccer game (spectating of course). This Friday a friend of mine from home came to visit. We visited a few of the Smithsonian’s and saw the new Star Trek movie in IMAX 3D. One of the best parts of the weekend, was staying in an Air BnB that had a cat! So much fluff, but a lot of love for Bill the cat.

On Sunday I went to my first major league soccer game. When we arrived it instantly began down pouring. For those of you who have experienced the DC weather, you know that when it rains in DC it’s like getting a bucket of water dumped over your head. Luckily the DC United staff were so kind to provide us with complimentary towels! The game was DC united vs Montreal. DC United was up almost the whole game until the last four minutes when Montreal scored a beautiful goal that unfortunately tied the game. It was a great experience and I definitely have a greater appreciation for all of the soccer athletes out there!


Maria McQuillan