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2009 SPS National Interns
2009 Interns | Past Interns | About the Program

  • Introduction
  • Online Journal
  • Final Presentation
Daniel McNeel Daniel McNeel
New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM
Internship: NASA-Goddard Spaceflight Center
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Hey Guys,
  This photo is from last summer. The things that happened...

I'm Daniel McNeel, another repeat offender at this internship program. I worked at NASA-Goddard last semester and I'm back again for another shot of physics hi-jinks and mayhem. Previously, I worked on creating elemental concentration maps of the moon in anticipation of the upcoming LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) mission. I come from New Mexico, which is our country's 48th state. We are not a third world country or anything like that. I'm a junior at New Mexico State University, majoring in physics with possible minors in art and math.

In my off days (whenever I feel like it) I go biking in the desert, swimming and sunbathing at our outdoor pool in January, or climbing in the mountains. This semester I undertook a search for all those things I've always wanted to do but never found the time for and have had some really great experiences. I'm taking a lifeguard class, advanced metals and jewelry, civil engineering, and even a guitar class (hey Mary, see if you can bring your guitar!). The purpose of all these classes was actually to take a break from the physics, which beat me up badly last year (it stole my beer money too). I'm hopeful that I'll get inspiration from this internship, to get back in there and do what needs to be done. I'm looking forward to meeting all of you, working with some of you, and revisiting one of the most interesting cities I've ever been to. Now I'll get to work uploading a picture, which will be either very old or very embarrassing because I'm using my mom's computer.


Daniel McNeel Daniel McNeel
New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM
Internship: NASA-Goddard Spaceflight Center
Follow SPS on: Twitter Facebook YouTube Photobucket The Nucleus Email and Share
Final Reflections Friday, July 31st Friday, July 10th Friday, June 19th
  Friday, July 24th Friday, July 3rd Friday, June 12th
Friday, August 7th Friday, July 17th Friday, June 26th Friday, June 5th

Final Reflections

What can I say that would describe the entire internship? I'm not sure I can even begin to address everything that I should in this section, but I'll take a stab at it.

To potential interns: This program is worth your while. Take it from me; I loved it so much that I had to come back for seconds. And you know what? The second time was better. If you have the opportunity to apply for any position, whether outreach or research, do it. There is so much to learn from this program, and you may not realize how much. The importance of this program rests in the fact that you are quartered in the middle of Washington DC with a group of people who are interested in the same things that you are, going through the same struggles as you are, and who can help you in ways that no professor or college can. If you, like me, are uncertain what to do with that physics degree you are working so hard to acquire then I would recommend that you spend a summer learning exactly what you can accomplish with it. Even if you want to find out more about research, don't dismiss the outreach positions. You will find out about research from the interns who are doing it. You will see your fellows at their best and at their worst, because you will all be living in the same hall.

What I've learned/Discovered: I've uncovered some hard truths this summer. I've been wondering what on earth I was doing in the physics program at my school. The hard truth is this: I couldn't seem to come up with a reason. This is very hard to resolve, because I know that I still very much enjoyed working for NASA. So how is it that I can enjoy doing the work of a physicist and yet not enjoy studying to become one full-time? Unfortunately, all I can say is that I am a poor fit with my physics program. I think that I owe it to myself and to the science community to see if I can find a physics program that will truly inspire me to make my contribution.

In general: The summer is a great time to try to figure out where you're going with your life. The classroom is great, especially if you can take a semester off and explore your options, but what I really needed was to sit in downtown sipping a mojito. Sometimes there's nothing you can do but look at the data you have gathered and get right down to the analysis. There's nothing better than being an SPS intern in Washington DC. The program takes care of you and makes living very comfortable, something that is hard to come by as an intern. This is the sort of program that will give you the tools you need to succeed in your studies, your degree, and your career.

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Friday, August 7th

Ah, the final week in Washington DC. I feel like I should be frantically trying to see everything at once, but instead things are going pretty slowly. There's not a lot left to do but sit back and let the rest of the week happen. Monday was a great day. The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) tour was superb, with excellent tour guides, excellent information on the testing, and excellent recommendations on how to get involved. First, we toured the NCRC. Unfortunately I can't remember what the acronym stands for, so I suppose I will have to describe the type of science that they do there. In the NCRC they have a nuclear reactor to produce neutrons. Then they direct the neutrons at materials to find such properties as magnetic field structure and the atomic structure at varying depths. They also do experiments on the lifetime of neutrons. Some of this research was very interesting to me, because I read about neutrons and neutron detection all the time in my own research. I think it was even more interesting to me to see experiments done on the ground. It was fascinating to see what else we can learn by studying neutrons. I really enjoyed this part of the NIST tour. I think that it may even have an influenced my career, because I am now looking into nuclear physics as a possible concentration. The next part of the NIST tour also very impressive. In it, we got to see a condensed ball of sodium atoms at temperatures of 100 micro kelvin. This is actually a very hot temperature for the laser cooling lab that we visited, and we were informed that they were busy aligning the laser beams and optimizing the optics. It was amazing to see the optics table. It was completely covered in an array of mirrors, lenses, beam splitters, and dozens of other specialized optics that I couldn't begin to describe. The end result was 6 laser beams converging on a diffuse cloud of sodium atoms, slowing the atoms down and getting them nearer to forming a Bose-Einstein condensate. Still, there was a long way to go (condensates form in the nano kelvin range) and they were only using the laser cooling method while we were there. It was an amazing demonstration of condensed matter physics which was very eye catching. Afterwards, Brad and Laurie took us around to their labs, where we got to see the cool stuff they work with every day. Though the tour wasn't as long as the NASA tour, I found myself getting tired long before the end. Luckily, we had the perfect wrap up event. We all drove down to Barns and Noble and drank coffee. I found a nice long boring book for the flight back. Then we headed off to the Dylla's. The catering was wonderful, as usually. I really enjoyed talking to the people from different parts of the American Center for Physics. In fact, from this dinner I also learned about some good grad schools. All in all, it was a very inspiring day!

I don't remember much about Tuesday. I think it was mostly taken up with saying goodbye to the people at the office and then packing up all my things. I also spent a little time in the Goddard library, but that was about it. At the end of the day we all converged on the local bar, Froggy Bottom, for one final farewell party. Some people weren't planning on staying in DC for Wednesday, so this was the last chance we would have. We had a lot of fun, and I think it was the perfect way to wrap up the internship. After all, this was the first place we visited on our very first day in DC.

Wednesday was crazy. That's about all it was. Packing, getting rid of the remaining food, stuffing the intern kit full of goodies for next year's interns. There was also the final meeting in the morning in which we were asked to give our feedback on the program. I remember that I had a lot of fun packing this time around. It felt more like I was headed towards a new beginning.

Thursday was traveling as usual. There was a lot of confusion over bags and delayed flights. I arrived in El Paso just as the sun was setting, with a T-storm just out the right side of the plane. It was raining when I got out of the airport, and it was raining all the way back to Alamogordo. I had forgotten how much I love the rain in New Mexico, because it makes the desert smell so good. It was a great end to my summer.

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Friday, July 31st

This week was a gigantic headache. Although I am actually done with my project, there is a lot for me to do. I have been working on a report for the Society of Physics Students on my experience with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. I don’t think that I really captured all that I wanted in this report, but I’ll turn it over to SPS anyway to see if they can use it for anything. Hopefully Ian can add in a personal account of being in Florida when the rocket launched. The other report for Dr. Kiefer is mostly finished, with maybe a few more figures to go before I can submit it.

However, all this work was merely to distract me from the real headache of the week: giving the SPS tour. It was a bit of an organizational nightmare. Luckily I had a lot of capable help. Everything went according to plan, even if the plan was modified at a few points. The first part of the tour took us to the Science Visualization Studio, the part of NASA that creates scientifically accurate animations for media and public viewing. They always give a great tour, since they have all the cool movies depicting current missions and data. I think that my favorite part about the Science visualization Studio is that you can search all of their videos at this site: Once we were done watching some great visualizations, including the orbit of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and changing polar ice caps, we headed to lunch. We went to the Ruby Tuesday’s right across from the Goddard Campus. It was a little bit scary when they brought me my pasta in what I could only describe as a trough. The food was good though, and we headed back over to NASA for our final part of the tour. For this part of the tour, Brian asked someone from the department to show us the process of micro shutter fabrication. We all got into our bunny suits (clean room outfits that go over street clothes) and stepped through multiple airlocks. After taking an air shower which everyone had a lot of fun with, we got to see the entire process of making tiny shutters built into a silicone wafer. When we got out of the clean room, we visited the testing facility. The testing facility housed the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter last summer, along with a ton of really gigantic thermal vacuum chambers and giant centrifuges. I had seen it all last year, but it was just as awesome a sight as ever. In the clean room where the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter had been assembled, there were now pieces of the Hubble space telescope which were recently brought back from orbit. We were informed that the Smithsonian Museum had already inquired about displaying some of these important artifacts. So much for grabbing a piece of it for myself. We wrapped up the tour at around 4:55, a much longer day than we had originally planned.

All that remains for this week is to have one final meeting with Tim, and to see what final check out procedures we need to go through. This is because next week, there is only one day when we will see our other mentors. The rest of the week is packed solid with farewell parties and tours. I’m going to be sorry to have to say goodbye to Goddard Space Flight Center a second time, but I feel like I have completed my work here for now and that it is time to go.

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Friday, July 24th

The first thing I did in the morning on Monday was check in with my mentors on what direction I should take my project in now that I had given my final presentation. Since we gave the presentation with two and a half weeks left, I was a little confused about what I would end up doing until it was time to go. I walked in and was ambushed by none other than Dr. Kiefer, my advisor from New Mexico State University. Not that this was completely unexpected, but we had thought that he was arriving on Tuesday. From there things kicked into higher gear than they had all summer, with the possible exception of the final presentations. We had to tell him what we had been doing over the summer, how we had done it, and what we planned to do with the time remaining to us. For me, the first two questions were easy. However, I had no idea what I was going to do for the last two and a half weeks before the end of the internship. Luckily, he gave me some pretty good follow up projects that I could work on. I’ve already added a few results to my project, and have been working on reporting them so that we have some progress to show. Unfortunately some of the rest of the week was spent on being exhausted. I was so tired that I read one sentence about 20 times, and never once made it to the end.

With the end of the internship breathing down my neck, I know that there is not enough time left to do everything that I want. I am trying to balance between keeping a healthy work ethic and crossing off everything on my list of things to do in Washington DC. As a repeating intern, I know how hard it is to cram everything into that last week, but that’s what ends up happening. At least this time I was privileged to really get to know the national monuments by night. I have spent more time at the World War II, Jefferson, and FDR monuments than any other places in Washington. There’s so much to do and see here that I wish there were a little more time.

I have one more project to arrange, and that is the tour of Goddard Space Flight Center. Luckily Brian has been helping me with this. We’re trying to get the date set up for July 30th, with tours of the Visualization lab and the Hubble clean room. At least that’s what we’re aiming for. There’s still a lot of paperwork left to do before we can get a group of interns onto the site. That’s about it for my week, although tonight I plan to go out on the town and visit a new restaurant and possibly sample a fine mojito.

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Friday, July 17th

Sleep is for losers. This week has been final presentation, presentation, presentation. It would have been a full week even if I had devoted my time to preparing. Instead it became an insane week. Saturday was a legendary day. It began with a trip to Ben’s Chili Bowl, a place with great chili dogs and a cool atmosphere. We weren’t able to get a seat, so we ate our chili dogs standing up. It was really great that Brad came along, because he appreciated it the most and took some really great pictures. After that we went to the National Gallery of Art. I was very impressed by the detail exhibited in the statues. Painting is not a medium that I really know much about, so I don’t think I appreciated the masters.

On Monday I spent all of my time trying to visualize my results. I hadn’t really managed to get anything out of my program yet, but it was only a matter of writing a few lines of code. Unfortunately this still took about half the day. The other half of the day should have been spent incorporating these results into the presentation, but we ran out of time. The details are hazy, because I’ve been running on low sleep for so long. Instead of working on the presentation later that night, I went out to an Italian restaurant. This was fun, but unusual.

On Tuesday I had to recreate my presentation from scratch, because I had left it at home. Then I gave a practice presentation to my mentors at NASA, during which I read off of my notes. After work, I rushed home without having time to make many revisions. This was because of the midnight showing of the 6th Harry Potter. It was excellent, although they didn’t start it until around 12:45. Some midnight showing that was.

Wednesday was even more of a blur, due to no sleep, but it was another practice presentation at the American Center of Physics. I was nonetheless impressed by the quality of everyone’s presentation.

Thursday I took half the day to get my results into a nice graph, and took half the day to sleep and prepare for the final presentation on Friday. Unfortunately, Thursday was crisis day. I didn’t have anything major to correct on my presentation, so I tried to make myself useful to other people.

After yet another late night, it was final presentation day. It has been a long one, but I got through it. I think I dislike being close to the end of a block of presentations, but I suppose that someone has to do it. I stumbled over my words a bit, and the flow could have used some polish, but I think I got my point across.

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Friday, July 10th

It is one week before final presentations. This means that I worked so late on Monday that by the time I got home, there wasn’t really much left to do but fall asleep. On Tuesday I got home late again and barricaded myself in my room, gnawing on a taco that was leftover from the great taco-fest on Sunday. However, all this unhealthy stress caught up to me by Wednesday, and my sore throat turned into something like strep throat. It still hasn’t gone away. It has been an unpleasant week, with very few redeeming qualities.

Except that on Wednesday, I made a new friend. While going through my fridge looking for something to make chicken soup out of, I noticed that my onions had gone bad. Cursing the onions and all of their children, I happened upon a leek that had gone untended for two weeks. As I pulled it out of the wrapper, I realized that it had gotten longer. Much longer. It sprouted new roots from the bulb, and had extended upwards like a telescope. Needless to say, it was fascinating. I wrapped the bulb in wet paper towels, set it on the window sill, and named it Charlington.

I should have realized the only two logical actions to take after this: take some medicine to lower my temperature, or TURN THE DARN FRIDGE UP. Later I did both, but I continued to be impressed that my pet leek survived nearly total darkness coupled with very cold temperatures long enough to be rescued.

That was the high point of my week. Thursday I barely dragged myself out of bed, and had a truly vile headache by the end of the day. I did manage to get quite a bit of work done, although it wasn’t enough to make a presentation on. I also learned that, while that solution you came up with at 4:45 in the morning sounded good at the time, you also just thought that buying a motorcycle and riding on dirt roads sounded fun. Granted, using a matrix containing the cosine of the values in the x direction was a pretty good idea, it also ended with me sprawled out in the gravel with a face full of cactus.

That was my week up until today, which is marvelous thanks to ibuprofen and some sort of oral anesthetic. I’ve been hard at work coding all day, but I did take some time to look at what Jose has been up to. I’m pleased to see that he has really made something out of that code from the beginning of the year. I’m jealous that he will have some really cool looking pictures to add to his presentation, whereas I will have nothing more that a bunch of dots on a black background. Till next week, away Charlington!

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Friday, July 3rd

It has been a very inconsistent week. On Saturday, I missed the Folk Life festival, which featured Welsh culture this year. I met up with the other interns for dinner afterwards, but we failed to get a table at the pizza place I wanted to eat at. After that I didn’t feel like hanging around, so I visited some of my favorite places in DC. I had a great time, and it was really exciting to be out alone, doing exactly what I wanted to do. If only the rest of the week had worked out so well. Unfortunately, as soon as I got back to work there were problems. For starters, I wouldn’t be able to get all of the data that I needed to do my analysis exactly how I wanted it to be. Secondly, my advisors disagreed over what I should do instead.

There are two new interns, Rob and Jennifer. They are fresh out of high school and only here for half the summer. I find myself wishing I had had a similar opportunity. This week we had an extensive tour of the PNG-GRAND test site, which stands for Pulse Neutron Generator – Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector. As it was explained to us, there are two parts to the department for which we work. There is the section that deals with analysis (we operate under this section) and there is the section that devises ideas for future missions (now working on PNG-GRAND). Last year I heard about this project through Julia, a grad student who was very helpful to me and Paul. And while we weren’t sure why she needed 10 tons of granite back then, we got the complete story this year.

The PNG-GRAND is a new type of instrument which will actually land on the surface of a planet. The block of granite was chosen to simulate this surface because of its low water content. Another benefit is that the composition of this granite is very well known. The new instrument will blast the granite with neutrons, causing the nuclei of the atoms to become exited. The nuclei emit gamma rays, which will be picked up by the gamma ray detector on the instrument. Because each element emits gamma rays at different energies, the gamma ray spectra will show the composition of the granite. The setup, including the giant granite block, is located a safe distance away from an old observatory. This will be the where the gamma ray and neutron detectors send their data to, and it will also house the people monitoring the experiment. This sounds quite exciting, so I hope that we will be able to help out in some way.

Other than learning all about this new project, I have accomplished very little this week. I have hit something of a programming wall that I can’t seem to solve. Yesterday I got food poisoning and had to go home just after making it to Greenbelt station. I stayed in bed until 7, when I finally felt better. It has been a strange week, claiming both the best and worst days of my summer so far.

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Friday, June 26th

I feel like there are deadlines breathing down my neck. Today Brian commented that the summer is already half over. I’m starting to feel that, as I realize that our slow start is going to put us at the disadvantage for the July 17th presentations. That seems so soon, and I have so much work left to do. I’m just getting all of my data programmed in, and I need to have some conclusions in a few weeks? I wish I were more like the others, just focusing on the task at hand.

Speaking of the task at hand, I suppose now would be a good time to explain what I’m working on. I’ve done all these journals and only once mentioned my research problem. I am trying to find an improved method for comparing the ages of craters. The current theory is that over time, hydrogen builds up in the lunar soil due to solar wind. When a meteor impacts the moon it creates a new surface with no hydrogen. The Lunar Prospector mission had an instrument specifically designed to measure the concentration of hydrogen, so we would expect to see a drop in hydrogen content over newer craters. This analysis has already been done, but it did not show this relationship very conclusively. I am attempting to use a new method to extend our understanding of the process of solar wind deposition.

I often have trouble telling people that on the metro. When confronted with someone who seems genuinely interested in my work as an intern, I often blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. I go for the most impressive statement, usually “Oh, I work with the team that is searching for ice in the polar regions of the moon”. Technically this is true, but that isn’t what I am working on. I know why we are encouraged to learn a quick elevator speech, as Gary would say. Just yesterday I was sitting next to a graduate summer intern studying law in the DC area. As it has been for the past week, the metro was unbelievably slow. It was so slow that I found myself compelled to strike up a conversation with the person next to me. I found myself telling her who I work for, rather than what I do. Maybe that is better, since studying the ages of craters seems incredibly boring to the average person.

I understand that point of view. There are times when I know that I barely understand what I’m supposed to be doing. There are challenges in every aspect of this line of work. For me, one of the most frightening prospects is that my research, in the end, could prove nothing. More data needed. Insufficient information. Not statistically significant. Because I am a temporary part of this community, because I won’t be around to see the grand scheme come into play, I am uncertain. The questions I am trying to answer may be answered when LRO sends back enough data. There will certainly be further work done to improve our knowledge in this area. The opportunity to study the phenomenon of solar wind deposition will occur again, for those same scientists that worked on it last time. I have only a brief window to try to point out a new way of looking at something old, and I am hoping that I stumble upon something interesting.

I think I have written down enough of my insecure thoughts on the scientific process. I guess I can briefly describe the week, since that is also part of the intern experience. Monday was a big day for me. I got my computer, and I got my programming software. My programming skills were rusty, and at several points I accidentally crashed the program. It was interesting that I managed to recreate my entire work from last summer in one afternoon. Except I did it better this time. Then I drew up a few maps of the new data. I went home a little early. An hour or so after I got back and was napping, both my mom and dad called me to see if I was alright. They had known about the accident on the red line metro rail before I had. I was worried for the other interns, since they usually work later than I do. Luckily everyone was alright, and we all went out for half price burgers. The televisions at the bar showed scenes of the train, and I found that I was unable to enjoy the evening in light of this event.

Perhaps the only other event of note this week was our celebration of Jose’s 21st birthday. We headed to a local bar for intern night. I think everyone else had a pretty good time, but it was too loud and crowded for me. Next time I’ll be more fun, promise

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Friday, June 19th

As journal entries go, I know that this one will not even come close to everything that happened this week. I will do my best to remember. We left for Florida on Sunday afternoon. We were supposed to take a flight up to Newark New Jersey before flying down to Orlando Florida. Things did not work out quite so easily, and our flight to Newark was delayed for 3 hours. Naturally, this caused us to miss our flight to Florida on Sunday. Ian and Jose argued with the airline until they agreed to give us a hotel in Newark, along with free meals. I was happy with just the free meals, and I’d never managed to get a free hotel before. Nice work guys! Our flight arrived in Newark at 12AM, and the flight to Florida left at 4 AM. I tried to get as much sleep as I could on the plane because we were missing an LRO science team meeting. When we got to Orlando, there was still the matter of car rental. Once again, Ian handled it and I was content to eat my doughnuts in the back seat. This was not the first time I had been to Florida, so some things seemed familiar. The overgrown forests, the swamps, more swamps, and enough water lying around to make you wonder if it even counts as continent. I fondly remembered this from my trip back in 8th grade, in which we all tried to feed each other to alligators. What I hadn’t missed was the feeling of my shirt sticking to me all over. Florida is probably the most humid place I have ever been to. Luckily we were never without air conditioning for long. When we finally got to the hotel on Cocoa Beach, we realized that this was a convenient location. Just a few blocks down, the Double Tree hotel would be the site of the LRO launch reception. The Kennedy Space Center was a short drive up the coast, with some really great scenery and bridges along the way. Oh, and the beach was right behind the hotel.

I wasn’t in any state to appreciate this when we arrived. I was dead tired and immediately crashed onto a nearby bed. All too soon, the Ian and Jose were ready to jump in the car for the end of the LRO science team’s meeting. I don’t know where they got the energy for that. I remember very little from that meeting, and we only caught the last 2 hours of it anyway. What I do remember is this: it is very important to submit your instrument documents on time. There was also an interesting discussion about the Science Mission, or what LRO will study after its initial year long Exploration Mission. Although this particular decision is not likely to affect me, I was interested to see how NASA goes about securing funding for future missions and setting goals for the future. In this case, NASA needs to predict specific results they can obtain by operating LRO for another year or two past the Exploration Mission. While it makes sense that NASA needs to prove the benefits of operating LRO for an extended time, I could tell that there was some major bureaucracy at work. I will probably need to consider this in the future if I decide to look for a government job.
By the end of the meeting I was dead on my feet, but the night was far from over. We were in Florida and the number one priority was to get out on the beach. Cocoa beach is a great beach. The water was very warm and the sun was just about to set. We hung around for a while before meeting up with Tim, Larry and Richard. Then we all went out for steaks.

Tuesday we got right into the LEND meeting, which was mostly about everyone’s part in the project. Everyone gave a quick presentation about their work. I had already seen a few of these presentations, but there were many new ones. There were also discussions about how to best calibrate LEND once it was turned on. Much of this was too technical or specific for me to understand. Once we got out of that meeting there was a reception at Kennedy Space Center. They had good food, beer, and even a live band. We didn’t stay too long, just enough to get a few plates of brisket. Later that night Jose and Ian went tubing in the ocean when it was completely dark. I hadn’t recovered from the flight and constant meetings yet so I went to bed early.

Wednesday was a lot of fun. We woke up at 4 in the morning to go see the Space Shuttle launch. The shuttle was taking up the LRO launch window and we thought it might be the only opportunity we would have to see a launch. As we stood across the water from the shuttle we were told that the launch had been scrubbed. We waited just to be sure. The shuttle was rescheduled for July 11th, and LRO was back on schedule to launch on Thursday. Since I was already up I decided that I would spend the entire day at the beach. While I didn’t quite make it all day, I did stay outside long enough to turn a hideous shade of red. Serves me right really. The LRO launch reception was held that night at the Double Tree hotel. It was standing room only and the food was very small. I liked the reception they held at Kennedy much better. But the Double Tree wasn’t all bad; in fact they had some very nice carrot cake and wine. After the reception we all went back to the beach just as a thunderstorm moved over the main land. We watched the lightning from the ocean for a little while but went back to the hotel room when it got too close. This was also the night that Jose forgot to close the door on our hotel room, but I cannot tell that story here.

On Thursday Ian and I headed for a new hotel, while Jose had to meet his family back in DC. This was the day of the actual LRO launch, and we were very excited about it. We found a pier that was reportedly a good place for viewing the Atlas V rocket pad, but we found we were too far away to pick out the pad. We were very aware that this launch might also be cancelled and we anxiously awaited further news. At first everything seemed to be going as planned. Then we heard that the launch had been pushed back 20 minutes. It was very tense, but finally someone told us that the launch would be in 2 minutes. I didn’t think to time it for myself, but instead picked out the patch of coast I thought the rocket would launch from. I aimed the camera and waited. Then, far to the left of where I had been looking, I saw a bright spot out of the corner of my eye. I dismissed it. There was no way the rocket would look that small! As it went higher however, I realized that had to be it. I swung Jose’s camera around, barely getting the last shot of it before it vanished into the low cloud cover. I remember thinking “That’s it? Was that it?” That question was soon answered for me, as the sound which had been so delayed as to miss the launch completely finally arrived. It went on, and on, past the time when I was sure the Atlas V would have cleared the atmosphere. I couldn’t see anything anymore, but I could still here it. The steady roar trailed on into a weird sort of popping, then intermittent dull sound in the background. I knew it had a long way to go through the atmosphere, but I never thought you would hear it tearing all the way out. I came expecting to be dazzled in one sense but left awestruck by another. We walked off the pier hoping that everything had gone smoothly.

As Friday was the last full day we would be spending in Florida, Ian and I had decided to visit Kennedy Space Center, this time just for our enjoyment. We visited the IMAX, I admired the giant constellation globe, and eventually we went on separate tours. As I got off the first bus stop (a display of the Space Shuttle’s main engine) I remembered walking the same steps 7 years ago. I remembered looking out over the edge for alligators, Space Shuttles and rockets. I remembered feeling like I was the only one there who cared about what they were trying to show us, like I was the only one who really wondered what it would be like to build a moon rocket. I know that is no longer the case. Anyone who is here over the summer would help build the next stepping stone towards the moon.

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Friday, June 12th

With our research plans out of the way we are all eager to get to work on our projects. Unfortunately things are getting started slowly. Since all of our projects require computers and specific programs, we will have to wait until our overworked system admin can get to us. Apparently the new NASA security requirements are causing them a lot of grief. At least we will be able to get to work once we get back from Florida.

Yes! I said Florida. The program is sending us down to Florida to observe the launch of LRO from Cape Canaveral. This unexpected privilege is very last minute, and I am very grateful for Ian for putting it all together. I have never been to a rocket launch before so I hope we can get close enough to see the rocket on the pad.

There was more excitement this week. On Tuesday we went to see a play titled Legacy of Light. I wasn’t sure if I would like it because it is a play about physicists. You might think I would like it because of this, but I guess I like to keep my art and science separate. Anyway, I was surprised at how the play managed to capture my attention. There were parts of the play I liked a lot, and some I didn’t. I ended up with an overall positive impression of the play.

Other than that, this has been a very uneventful week. I went to Trader Joe’s and got food. I made potato soup. That’s about it. 

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Friday, June 5th

Well, since I have a lot to talk about but little to say I suppose I’ll just dive right in. Flying to DC is lovely in the summer, because you get to land almost directly in the Potomac River. I think that if the pilot made one trifling error we would all be a lot wetter and unhappy. But since we did land in perfect order I will relate the happenings in the first week of my internship. I had a cold which kept me miserable and bed-ridden for much of the week including the day I landed, but that is finally starting to clear up.

On Monday we met with the good people of AIP and they explained the workings of the internship. It was good to see Gary, Liz, Kendra and Tracy again, as I remembered them well from last summer. Immediately following this meeting the NASA interns (Jose, Ian, Brian, Erin and myself) were shipped off to Goddard Space Flight Center. Again, I met with several familiar faces. Tim, Larry and Richard were all there, brimming with new ideas for us to explore over the summer. Jack Trombka, who was a mentor to me last year, seems to be enjoying his retirement. I’m told that he still stops in a few days a week and I look forward to seeing him again.

Next day at work we finalized our assignments for the summer. I decided that I was most interested in correlating crater ages to neutron maps. I will probably write more about the problem as I become more familiar with it.

Thursday was very cold. I foolishly assumed that it would be warm despite the cloud cover and went to work in a t-shirt and no outerwear. We were instructed to develop research plans for the summer, which is something new and worthwhile. Thursday night was declared pancake night, and I decided to chip in some Spanish Tortillas. My fellow interns bravely ate a few of them despite malfunctions in the flipping and heat control departments.

Today we took a field trip to UMD (University of Maryland), to meet with a group of NASA officials and UMD professors about the upcoming LRO mission. It was fascinating to learn about the orbits and logistics that LRO and its accompanying instruments will have to undertake after launch. Hopefully this will be on June 17th. Although much of the discussions were new to me, I think I managed to pick out interesting facts concerning the commissioning stage of the mission. During the first few weeks of flight, LRO will test the onboard instruments. The neutron detector will take background readings of how many neutrons are produced by the spacecraft itself, with no influence from planetary bodies. As LRO approaches the moon (a three or four day journey), it will begin closing its elliptical orbit to about 50 by 200 kilometers. This stage is important for LRO’s sister mission LCROSS, because LRO will be looking an impact site with probable concentrations of hydrogen. And now I will have to cut this long winded and probably inaccurate explanation short as there is a talk to attend.

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Daniel McNeel Daniel McNeel
New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM
Internship: NASA-Goddard Spaceflight Center
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Final Presentation

Lunar Crater Age Comparison to Neutron Flux

The motivation of this project is to find an independent way to support crater age models. Current theory states that over time, hydrogen particles in the solar wind are deposited on the surface of the moon. When new craters are formed the material that is exposed has not been saturated with hydrogen from solar wind. Due to this lower exposure time to solar wind, the younger craters may show lower concentrations of hydrogen. The neutron detectors on both the 1998 Lunar Prospector and the current Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter missions detect the presence of hydrogen by the decrease in neutrons of epithermal energy. This research compares the neutron maps made by Lunar Prospector to the ages of craters to determine if solar wind has altered the neutron flux according to the age of the crater.
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