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Jesus Cantu Jesus Cantu
New Mexico State University
Internship: NASA-Goddard Spaceflight Center
Online Journal
Week of July 30, 2007 Week of July 9, 2007 Week of June 18, 2007
Week of July 23, 2007 Week of July 2, 2007 Week of June 11, 2007
Week of July 16, 2007 Week of June 25, 2007 Week of June 4, 2007
Where are the now?

January 7, 2008

I have had some time to reflect on my internship at NASA last summer, and I only recall happy times. Sure, there were times when it felt there weren t enough hours in the day, but as a physics student, I m used to that. I enjoyed my internship in DC. Being in a big city, there was so much to do and see. I was a bit disappointed it ended so soon. I met lots of great people who I still keep in contact with. Everyone at the AIP, SPS, and NASA were great, down to earth people. I must admit, at first I was nervous about meeting all these intelligent people, but it turned out they were just normal people who wanted us to succeed.

The other interns were a joy to be around, and we all got along like we were old friends. It is a good thing too, because we all know how daunting and lonely a new city can be. We went on trips together, planned meals, and tried to schedule at least one night a week where we could all get together and blow off some steam. Since we were located downtown, it made it easy to get to the museums and sights on the weekends, and what could be better than the fourth of July in the nation s capitol without having to worry about parking or transportation? The Washington Monument was only a mile away! I think of all the great experiences I had last summer, Independence Day was my favorite. Watching the firework show with diffraction gratings was incredible and I highly recommend it!

As an intern NASA Goddard, I really got to experience a lot. The campus is huge! It was awe-inspiring to be where so many important discoveries had been made. Although I did spend most of my time in my office, I was able to attend several lectures on current and future NASA missions. I also attended several group meetings where the members of the Astrochemistry branch of the Space Sciences and Exploration Division discussed ideas for future projects. It was a great opportunity to see scientists at work. The project leader, Jack Trombka, had been at NASA since the Apollo missions and had even worked on a few of the later missions. He had great stories and was full of advice. Tim McClanahan and Larry Evans, my immediate supervisors, were always on hand for advice and were very helpful and personable, quite unlike the stuffy scientists I half expected to encounter.

I am happy I had the opportunity to participate in the SPS internship program. Gary and Liz did a great job of finding the right group of students. I learned a lot about how science and government work together, how NASA runs internally, and SPS in general. I even had a little money left over at the end. If anyone reading this is considering applying for the summer internship program, take my advice and do it. You won t regret it. Hopefully your experience will be as great as mine was!

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Week of July 23, 2007

This weekend I went back to the Natural History museum to see the dinosaur and prehistoric mammal exhibits. Enrique, Kristi, and I went to go see "Live Free or Die Hard" on Saturday night. There were more explosions than I could shake a stick at. It's good to know Hollywood is still ignoring reality. The rest of my time was spent putting the finishing touches on my presentation.

Monday was our practice presentation day. I found the peer review very helpful, and there was a lot of good criticism. Most importantly, I learned the importance of practicing. Later that evening we went to dinner with Toufic from AAPT. We had a nice dinner and talked about Physics Olympiad he just returned from and the perception of physicists by the public, among other things.

Tuesday was the big day. We all got dressed up and headed to the AIP for our presentations. I was definitely nervous, but once I was done, I felt like a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I got to meet James Harrington from the MU-SPIN program, which I really enjoyed. We talked about continuing the relationship between NASA and NMSU.

After the presentation we were treated to a talk from L. Worth Seagondollar, who was a graduate student at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project and co-founder of SPS. It was a very informative and engaging talk. I am glad that it was recorded, and I hope I'll be able to get a copy. My favorite part was when he talked about hammering a dent out of a Uranium sphere.

Our day still wasn't done, and we went over to a local high school to film some field goal attempts using spandex. That was a lot of fun, but it sure was a hot day. In fact this whole week has been nearly unbearable. I can't imagine what life in DC must have been like before air conditioning.

Thursday was the tour of NASA. We went to see the thermal vacuum chamber, the world's largest clean room, and a giant centrifuge. We also so the engineering mock up of LRO and the mass mock up of LEND. Afterwards we visited the building where I work and one of the radiation labs where they are calibrating a neutron detector.
I've had a great time here, but I am ready to go home. I've spent the rest of my time at work finishing up my work. I have several things to keep me busy over the next year, and hopefully I will be able to present my research at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March.

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Week of July 16, 2007

This weekend I went to Philadelphia with Kristi. It was a great trip! My favorite part was going to the Market in Reading Station. There were so many types of food! We didn't get a chance to see the Liberty bell but it was still pretty neat. We had cheese steaks, of course. We basically walked around the downtown area and had a good time.

With our presentations due next week, I split my time at work between my work and my presentation. It keeps me pretty busy. I am anxious to get this thing over with. Looking back its hard to believe it's been six weeks. Time sure does fly here. I am looking forward to being back home.

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Week of July 9, 2007

Wow! Each week seems shorter than the previous. Fortunately, I'm able to get a good amount of work done in the 120 hours allotted to each seven day period. Last weekend was pretty tame in comparison to others. Saturday, Jason, Enrique, and I went down to the Museum of Natural History to thoroughly check out the mammal exhibit. Sunday we went to the IMAX in the Air and Space Museum to watch "Adrenaline Rush", a short film on skydiving and base jumping. Afterwards we all wanted to jump off everything. One of the scientists at NASA lent me his membership card so admission was only $6.50 per person. Sunday was also the start of a string of particularly hot and humid days.

Monday was a pretty normal day at work. Vik, the other intern I share an office with, and I spent some time discussing and deciphering the maps we've been creating all summer. We made some headway, but we finally had to break down and ask one of the scientists to make sure the assumptions we had made were correct. We were on the right track, but somewhere we veered away from the truth. My wife, Kristi, got into town Monday night (Tuesday morning) at 2:30 a.m. Our anniversary was Monday. I am very happy to have her here. She is here working on her Master's thesis at the Museum of Natural History.

I left work a couple of hours early on Tuesday so I could show Kristi how the Metro works and the location of a few of the essentials nearby, i.e. the grocery store and the pharmacy. After a quick tour of the museum, we headed back to the dorms so Kristi could meet everyone. We had dinner at a Thai restaurant in Pentagon City with Justin, Ryan, and Meagan.

Wednesday, I met with Congresswoman Nancy Boyda from Kansas. Though we only spoke with Congresswoman Boyda a short time, her staff was very courteous. It also gave me a chance to see a bit of the Capitol building. The architecture is amazing and so is the artwork.

After the Capitol, we headed over to NIST for a tour of the campus. We had the opportunity to see where Enrique and Krystyna work, the EUV synchotron, and the neutron beam lines from the reactor there. My favorite part was the neutron science area. I really would have liked to have spent a some more time there, but we were on a tight schedule. Thanks again Krystyna and Enrique for organizing such a great tour!

Thursday morning was the end of the heat wave. Cool and breezy is my kind of weather. I attended a presentation about the possibility of life on Mars, the basic science behind the search, and Goddard's involvement with future missions to Mars. It was very interesting. I also began organizing the various projects I've worked on this summer into a presentation.

Friday, I spent some time helping Vik with his work. I really like working with him. Hopefully we'll work together again in the future. I spent some more time today organizing my presentation, which is actually three presentations rolled into one. I'm looking forward to this weekend. Kristi and I are going to Philadelphia on the Chinatown bus. Its only $28 round trip. It's not much of anniversary present, but its all I can afford right now.

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Week of July 2, 2007

Saturday Justin, Enrique, Andrea, Katie, Chris and I went to Shenandoah National Park. I really enjoyed being out in the forest. Andrea climbed nearly every rock she saw. There deer, pheasants, hawks, and centipedes. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to go on as many trails as we would have liked, but we did get to see a waterfall. We cooked some hot dogs there and had a great time.

I was walking to the metro Monday morning, and I saw Meagan walking ahead of me.  She was off in la-la land, not paying attention to her surroundings, and I thought that she needed to be aware in case of potential attackers.  I walked up close behind her, and she didn't notice.  I was so focused on being sneaky that I didn't notice the police car sitting by the curb up ahead.

After a few more paces, I whispered some Eminem lyrics in her ear, grabbed her purse, and started running.  A police officer exploded out of the car and tackled me in the sidewalk.  My elbows were all scraped up, but she mercilessly hauled me to my feet and slammed me against the car.

"Meagan, tell her you know me!" I shouted, but Meagan just shook her head.  The police officer looked at Meagan.

"I don't know this man," Meagan said.  "Thank you so much for getting my purse back for me."  Then, Meagan spit on me and walked on to the Metro.  Andrea didn't post my bail until she got out of work, so that's why I didn't make it to NASA on Monday.*

Tuesday was good day; I made it to work on time and without incident. I was finally able to get my polar map of neutron counts from Lunar Prospector data, but the distribution is skewed. I have to rethink how I'm assigning values to the pixels.

Wednesday was the Fourth of July and we went down to Constitution Ave. to watch the parade. The heat and humidity was almost unbearable, and I was very impressed with people in the Parade who were able to walk the whole route while dancing, or playing instruments. My favorite part of the parade was the dancers from Bolivia and Peru; their costumes were very flamboyant.

After the parade, Enrique, Justin, and I walked through the Folk Life festival. We stopped to see a blue grass band with a guy that played the spoons. It was great; as soon as I get another spoon I'm going to start practicing! After the blue grass band we went through the South East Asia area and watched a dragon show and a Vietnamese folk band made up of farmers. Then there was a tornado warning and the entire mall had to be vacated. We walked back to the dorms and were inside before it started raining. At night we made our way back to the mall to watch the fireworks. The show was stupendous! It was easily the best firework show I've seen.

Thursday I struggled with my map some more and Friday I was given a new assignment. I have to estimate how reliable the data from LEND will be after 40 days in orbit. The data from LEND will be used to target the Lunar surface to determine the best location for LCROSS to impact. LCROSS is another payload that will be delivered along with LRO. Its mission is to impact the surface of the moon, sending dust and hopefully ice into space near the surface of the moon. LCROSS will then pass through the dust cloud and look for signs of water ice. I've made some progress already, but I still have plenty more work to do.

*BTW: The description of Monday's events was fictitious and contributed by APS intern Katie McAlpine. The truth is I did sneak up on Meagan and gave her a good scare, but that's all that happened.

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Week of June 25, 2007

This week was filled with events, unfortunately I was unable to attend all of them. The CNSF exhibition was on Tuesday. It was very interesting to see the wide array of projects the NSF funds: from teaching to medical research to astronomy and geophysics. I talked to a few people and even handed out a business card. All in all it was a good time.

Wednesday was the dinner with the American Chemical Society, but I had to make up the time I missed at work because of the CNSF, so I didn't attend. Ryan, however, brought me bag a tote bag full of goodies, what a swell fellow. I have been charged with becoming an expert on the LRO-LEND satellite and I spent most of the day reading and talking with the scientists at NASA.

Thursday afternoon, one of the scientists I work for, Dr. Larry Evans, gave a talk on recent and upcoming satellites for Mars, Mercury, and the moon. It was very informative and answered many of the questions I had about LEND. Thursday was also the last day my professor, Dr. Boris Kiefer was here. While he was here, we talked about the class he will be teaching next spring, the work I am doing here, and the roll I will play in the class. I've come to realize I have a lot to learn about geology.

Friday came around and I sort of switched gears at work. I have two main projects that I'm working on: learn everything there is to know about LEND and make elemental concentration maps from Lunar Prospector data. I'm back working on the maps now, which is good because one can only read so many papers and books before being overloaded. I am looking forward to our trip to Shenandoah National park tomorrow. It will be refreshing to get out of the concrete jungle and breathe some fresh air.

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Week of June 18, 2007

A lot of my time this week was spent debugging our permanent shadow crater modeling. I learned about "logic bombs": a term used in programming to describe the revelation of the hidden logic flaw in your code that keeps it from running the way you want. Our problem was we weren't keeping track of the correct minimum value. Fortunately, it only took the better part of a day to figure it out.

My professor showed up on the Thursday and we got a tour of the assembly area which had lots of clean rooms, one of the world's largest thermal vacuums, and a room with giant speakers that test the instruments and delivery vehicles for structural integrity at various resonant frequencies. We had the opportunity to see some of the instrumentation on the Solar Dynamics Observatory being installed. The clean rooms are kept at a constant pressure gradient to keep out dust and other small particles, and everyone wears white clean suits. It was very interesting.

On Friday I was given the opportunity to help with the testing of a mercuric iodide detector and from there build a model a similar detector built with a rare isotope of of mercury, 99Hg. I'm looking forward to the chance of getting my hands dirty.

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Week of June 11, 2007

This week just flew by. I felt under the weather the first half of the week. I had sore throat for a couple of days, which eventually developed into a slight cough and finally some head congestion. Fortunately, I felt fine by Thursday morning, which was great because I was able to enjoy the Spurs beat the Cavaliers that night. Friday we went out to a Thai restaurant. It was fantastic! I haven't had Thai since I left San Antonio two years ago.

Saturday Ryan, Meagan, Enrique and I went to the Department of Interior then the Museum of Natural History. I had my doubts when Ryan suggested the Department of Interior, but it was fairly interesting. There were great photographs of Native Americans and some interesting information on the settling of North America.

The Museum of Natural History was amazing. We met Justin and Katie at the IMAX theatre and watched Sharks in 3-D. After the movie, we wandered over to the history of western civilization exhibit. The detail of the artwork from 5,000 BC was impressive. From there I whisked through the gem and minerals exhibit and took a quick tour of the dinosaur exhibit. I quickly decided that I would have to come back every week to truly appreciate everything. After the museum, we went to Chinatown for a delicious, filling dinner. I'm really glad we all get along so well. It seems like we are all old friends even though we've only known each other for a week.

As far as work goes, we have made improvements to our crater shadowing model. The next step is to add noise to our constructed image and then attempt to extract our original image. Tuesday I was given an additional assignment. I am using data collected by the Lunar Prospector to investigate the ratio of radioactive elements. From this we should be able to say something more about the history of the moon. I am using IDL to create a color coded map of the lunar surface at mid-latitudes. I am also trying to locate Apollo 15 and 16 data which should be able to provide better resolution.

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Week of June 4, 2007

This first week in D.C. has been fun, but exhausting. I've finally figured out the METRO system, and my commute isn't that bad as long as there are no accidents on the road and the trains are on time. All the other interns are great and we all get along famously.

The first week of work involved a fair amount of paperwork and I'm still going through some necessary orientation procedures. The project I am working on is interesting and all the scientists I have met at NASA are helpful and accommodating. Thus far, much of my work has entailed research on neutron detection and the GeoTIFF file format. We are creating a model of expected neutron counts to determine the feasibility of an image enhancement method. I am learning a lot here and I am looking forward to two months of hard work.

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