Week One: Living the Dream

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Sunday, June 12, 2016


Maria McQuillan

This summer I am living one of my biggest dreams, working for NASA. I am so thankful to SPS for providing me with this opportunity. This has been my first experience working closely with SPS and I’m loving it. Not only have they provided me with an opportunity to work with NASA, they have given me so many tools for networking and furthering my career following my internship. The coolest thing so far has been meeting the Nobel Laureate John Mather. I am very excited to grow in this new community and hopefully bring a taste of SPS back to my home school.

My first week at NASA has been surreal. I’ve had the opportunity to work, chat, and eat lunch with some of the smartest people in the world. My mentor, Dr. Viall has me working on the Messenger Mission. I will be studying the interaction of the solar wind and mercury’s magnetic field. I’ve spent the majority of my week learning about plasma physics and the magnetic interactions of earth and the sun. My favorite part of my research so far has been digging through NASA’s public archives of solar data. I was able to watch a Coronal Mass Ejection(CME) event from 2007 happen right before my eyes and the best part is, anyone can access these records and watch our sun develop and change day by day.

Outside of work, I’ve been keeping busy with many different activities: exploring DC, getting lost on the buses, attaining the ultimate level of sun burn, kayaking on the Potomac river, and of course calling my mom.

This is my first time in DC and I have been taking full advantage of all the free things to do. My first weekend here I set out on the National Mall with a few friends. We saw the iconic Washington monument, the Lincoln memorial, the never ending wall of names at the Vietnam memorial, the constitution, declaration of independence and the bill of rights at the National Archives, and the beautiful WWII memorial. As we walked along the National Mall I began to notice the culture of DC. Everyone seemed to have an agenda, whether it be running after a tour guide or engaging in a debate or protest.

Later in the week, I organized a trip to kayak on the Potomac river in DC with some NASA interns. Most of the interns rolled up in a 15 passenger van with a canoe strapped to the top that was dubbed “The candy van”. Unfortunately, they had a bit of trouble finding parking in the area and had to portage the canoe about 15 minutes down to the landing. Once they met up with the rest of us we blew up the inflatable kayaks and launched our boats. After getting to know each other on the river, being a big group of space nerds, we had to head over to the air and space museum where we got to see the actual Apollo 11 command module that was on the moon!

This week has been composed of lots of new people and experiences. Looking forward to the weeks to come.

Maria McQuillan