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Daniel McNeel   Daniel McNeel
New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM
Internship: NASA-Goddard Spaceflight Center
• Introduction
• Online Journal
• Final Presentation
Online Journal
Final Presentation Week of July 28, 2008 Week of July 7, 2008 Week of June 16, 2008
  Week of July 21, 2008 Week of June 30, 2008 Week of June 9, 2008
Week of August 4, 2008 Week of July 14, 2008 Week of June 23, 2008 Week of June 2, 2008

Week of August 4, 2008

As this is my final journal entry, I suppose it should be full of useful advice and fun tidbits about the entire summer. If you are considering this internship, I can't give you any definite guidelines for what will make or break it. However, I can tell you what worked for me.

Stick with the adventurous interns. There will be some in your group. They are a great source of encouragement and ideas. If you're not the adventurous type, try to be open to activities. Its more fun with more people. The others in my intern group ALWAYS remembered to include me by asking if I would like to go to Baltimore or New York or anything fun they were doing. I am very thankful for this because I got to choose the events I knew I would enjoy. Plus it was good for our group because no one felt left out.

In my work at NASA, I found it beneficial to focus on one project only. At the beginning of the summer there were so many side projects to do and things to learn. As the summer progressed, I managed to arrive at a single topic of study. This was thanks to my mentors, who provided me with a problem that was just manageable to my level of knowledge. I think that focusing on this single problem made my internship more valuable than if I had attempted many smaller projects. Again, this is simply the way of working that I found easier. There are certainly more challenging projects out there, but I was very satisfied with the results of mine.

Its really not to hard to get along with everyone here. The people are nice and I didn't have any problems getting help. I really appreciated all the little things they did to make us feel welcome. At NASA I feel that I made a lot of good friends who will stick with me through college.

The last week of the internship, I found myself really looking to the future. I wondered how this internship will help me as I move forward into my next year of college. I also thought a lot about how different the coast is from New Mexico. I love the ocean, but I found myself missing red chile, the rain, and my school. So I was ready when it was time to leave, even though I knew I probably wouldn't get the chance to stay in Washington again for a long time. I know most people would wish they had done more than I did in Washington DC, but I gave it my best and I'm satisfied with the results. I really can't ask for more than that.

Today is Friday. I went apartment hunting all day and now my last journal is late. That's pretty much a tradition now. I wish I could put all of my experiences into this journal, so you would have the complete picture of my summer. Since that can't be done, I suppose I will simply have to continue to tell everyone who will listen how my summer went, and what experiences I had. In a nutshell, taking this internship over the summer was the best decision I've made since taking a summer in Spain. It was that good.

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Week of July 28, 2008

Weekend: Party at Gary's White House

Proof that everything is better if you try to have fun. I have to commend Gary for a startlingly good rendition of Roxanne by Sting while playing Rock Band (like Guitar Hero, but with drums and vocals). I also got to sing, since I recognized Creep by Radiohead. It wasn't nearly as amusing as Gary though. Of course this wasn't all we did. Gary also had some interesting Cajun dishes for us, though I can't quite remember the names of them. There was also a fun game of basketball, and lots of good conversation. However, I was really procrastinating the entire time. I had lots of work to do.

This week was highly comparable to finals week back at school. There was a lot of build up and worry about whether I was prepared or not. The first presentation I gave was one that I had finished on Sunday at about one o'clock. I presented it the next day, and for about 40 minutes I frantically scratched down improvements, omissions, and lots of corrections. This worried me, because it was only meant to be a 10 minute presentation. On finishing this presentation, I began making changes. I worked until 5 but I wasn't close to finished. Paul, Julia, and I really needed to blow off some steam, so we decided to get some Italian Ice. For future reference, Mango Gellato with frozen custard helps soothe the burn of humiliation from 40 minute critiques. We ended up working VERY late on our second draft, and had to get up early the next morning to present our trial run to our SPS advisors. I needed to get back to NASA to clear up some issues with my mentors, so I volunteered to go first. This also suited me because I really wanted to get it over with. It was over quickly, and I got much more positive feedback the second time. Afterwards I sat down and tuned out everyone (hey, I was in shock). Then we had lunch and headed back to NASA. I managed to find Jack and got him to explain what my data actually meant. With this information in hand, I spent a very long time revising my second draft to specification. Luckily, I had Julia to help me. With her help and attention to detail, I completely revised my presentation. I was worried that my presentation was too different and it would completely take everyone by surprise. Me and Paul finished making corrections and went home at about 9 on Tuesday.

Bright and early on Wednesday, I shuffled out of bed and into 100% Way Too Hot clothing. Really, a coat, shirt, tie, and undershirt was uncomfortable. When we left the apartment, I commented that Paul looked a little... underdressed. Lucky him, no coat. Still, no tie? I asked him about it and he handed me a box labeled "TIES". I tied it, got it off over my head, and watched in amusement as Paul pulled it on over his head while driving. Now both properly attired, we arrived at the American Center for Physics. We were informed that Paul would be presenting second and I would be presenting third. This was acceptable to me, as I would get it out of the way early on. There was a surprisingly good turn out from the NASA crowd, all of whom I must thank again. A lot of our mentors were there: Jack Trombka, Richard Starr, Larry Evans. In addition, Mona, Julia and Vik showed up to support us, which was very nice of them. Thanks guys.

Logan's presentation was first, and it was quick. Then Paul's presentation, which was over even faster. Then it was my turn. It went quite smoothly and I was relieved, right up until it was time for questions. I got some difficult ones, in particular: "What does the decrease of the ratio of Potassium to Thorium in the Mare region of the Moon mean?". I really had been worried someone might ask me what it all meant. Oh boy. Luckily for me, I gave it my best shot, then passed it on to my mentors to give a more accurate answer about the underlying processes and the really complicated stuff. The other hard question: "Why is it important for us to study the moon?" was a little easier, and I managed to give some pretty good answers. I also got some more help from Jack, Richard and Larry, and I thought it turned into a good discussion (which is what I was aiming for). After all the presentations were finished, I got to meet the guy in charge of the funding for this particular internship. That was nice, since I hadn't met him before and wanted the chance to thank him personally. His name is James Harrington, and he gave me some good advice about other directions I might take my research that were very interesting. I thanked everyone for coming (and in particular, saving me from embarrassing myself on the first question), and we got some lunch. I caught up with some friends I hadn't seen since the capitol hill tour. In particular, it was good to see Susannah again (the only person who identified my Harry Potter tie on sight, kudos). We talked for a long time, but everyone eventually filed out of the room. So, I headed back to work and tried to figure out what to do with the rest of my internship. The rest of the week has been a mixture of frantically busy and complete lack of purpose.

On Thursday, we went to lunch with everyone from our NASA department, then went to Vik's final presentation. It was good, and I asked a ton of stupid questions (because someone has to). Then we listened to the French intern, Anise's presentation. She outdid all of us by using apple pie at the end of the presentation. She was also leaving the very same day, so it was an excellent goodbye.

Today I haven't done much. Strange, the end of this internship is remarkably similar to the beginning. Funny how things work out like that isn't it?

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Week of July 21, 2008

Finally, I've accomplished everything that I set out to accomplish when I left for this internship. Have I finished my presentation? Are all of my slides ready? No! I set a very easy goal when I left, and I can rest a little easier knowing that I've finished it.

I'm speaking, of course, about my three-year pilgrimage to the ocean. It may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but I can count the number of times I've been swimming in the ocean on one hand. And it was a ton of fun.

We (Paul, Jenna, Meagan, Kunal and I) left on Sunday. The closest beach is the Chesapeake bay, which is about an hour or slightly longer drive. By the time we got there, everyone else was starving. I really just wanted to get on a beach so I could get to swimming, but the others were the vocal majority. So we stopped in a seafood place, where I managed to get a huge crab burger. It really was different from fake crab, and very tasty. The others enjoyed various forms of crustaceans and mollusk that needed to be cracked apart. I enjoyed having my burger in a nice, pre-cracked form. It took a long time to leave, but we finally managed to find a tiny little man-made beach. The others were ticked at the entry fee, but I really didn't care about it, because this was what I had been waiting for all along. It didn't disappoint. The sand was gritty, the water murky, and I think everyone was stung by jellyfish. Excellent! As beaches go, it was very shallow for a very long way out, and I had to swim for a long time before I couldn't touch the bottom. This is another of my requirements for visiting the ocean. I haven't swum in a long time and I got easily tired. It took a lot of effort to get far enough away from the shore, which was probably a bad idea. Don't care, it was totally worth it. I even managed to keep my glasses on this time!

After all of that, there was a week of work, which was not unlike every other week of work except that I had to prepare for my presentation. To make a long story short, I made my graphs look better, improved my map sampling method, and generally geared up to put everything I'd done into a presentation. The presentation will probably be the defining moment of my internship. All's well that ends well right? (Unless it doesn't.)

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Week of July 14, 2008

The past week (14th-18th) I've been working on improving all my image displays as well as my methods for measuring the change in composition on the surfaces of mars and the moon. On Monday I met with Larry, who does a lot of work on the same type of element mapping that I'm doing. He suggested that I use a sliding total, i.e. add all the measurements in a box, then move over 5 degrees and add up the measurements again. I then graph all of these boxes against longitude like I did with averages before. Luckily this wasn't too much different from what I was already doing and it didn't take long to change my program.

Another improvement I had to make was to the display of my maps. I had been using a lunar map that was ugly and pixilated. I had to spend a day trying to make it look smooth. I also added a map of the features of the moon underneath, so that it was easier to see corresponding features.

There doesn't seem to be any time left to get everything done. I know its still a few weeks until I have to present, but I still don't know how I'm going to explain all this. I don't even know what I've accomplished really. So this has pretty much put me into a frenzied workaholic state, as you may be able to tell by my obsessive technical explanation above. I've also been trying to organize the tour of NASA, with mixed results. Good thing Julia is helping out on that one, or I don't think it would be a very good tour. My week in a nutshell: Make graphs prettier, work work work, flip out a little.

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Week of July 7, 2008

After last week's amazing success in coding it was inevitable that something would go wrong. On monday, I reviewed my lovely software and decided to start doing the error analysis on my data. For each of my boxes of Potassium to Thorium ratios, I computed the standard deviation of ratios within the box. After convincing my software to plot these standard deviations in the form of error bars, I could already tell that something was seriously wrong with my methods. According to my data, the boxes had values like 250, plus or minus 100.

I quickly brought in some of my mentors to see if they could spot errors in my code that would lead to this sort of unreasonable error. After looking it over, I was instructed to increase the size of my boxes in order to get better statistics. This was accomplished easily, but my error bars decreased only a small amount. As of writing this, I still have no idea what to do with my program. I really need to talk with Jack, since he is the one who knows what this data is for. However, he's been busy all week with meeting Igor Mitrofanov, the creator of the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector, LEND.

Thursday was completely devoted to one giant meeting in which we listened to people talk about aspects of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that didn't pertain to us. We got a chance to meet with Igor on Thursday, and unfortunately we also had to present a few slides explaining our work for the summer. This was unpleasant since my work is far from finished and also shows unacceptable error bars. This was also my first time presenting my work and I didn't present it well. In the future, I will try to avoid using phrases like "And the data shows...um well there's something seriously wrong with my program so I'm trying to fix that".

I haven't really accomplished anything here on Friday either, since we spent all morning taking pictures with the actual spacecraft. With any luck, Jack can point me in the right direction on monday.

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Week of June 30, 2008

The fourth of July week-by far the best experiences of my internship happened this week. There was so much I liked about this week, from the fact that it completely chopped off Friday and declared Thursday the end, to the amazing sense of success and accomplishment I gained by solving most of my problems. To top it off, my dad flew all the way from New Mexico to spend a weekend in DC. The numerous events of this week may have also contributed to the tardiness or outright delinquency of my journal entry (sorry!).

To begin with, this week seemed like it would be very difficult. After having had only vague instructions about my project, I finally received my first marching orders. Obtain a graph of the mean potassium to thorium ratio at 3 different latitudes in 20x20 bins! Up until this point I had been following only a loose idea of what I needed to give my superiors, from many different points of view. During this time I got familiar (played) with the data sets and methods of displaying the data through computer coding. Even though it felt like I accomplished little during this time, that experience enabled me to corral my data into little 20x20 bins, take the mean of all that data, and display the result. I was so very pleased with this graph that I couldn't wait to get back to work on monday, but this is a story for next week.

The Fourth of July weekend was a complete blur. Friday, we sat in the hot sun for about 2 hours while marching band after marching band walked down constitution avenue. There was even one from New Mexico, and they sounded very good. Long after the parade, we walked over to the Lincoln Monument for the fireworks display. If you're in Washington DC on the fourth of july, you HAVE to go to the fireworks display. Its got to be a law or something. It was unlike anything I've ever seen, and I could have enjoyed it much more without the nagging feeling that the huge smoke cloud it left behind couldn't be good for me, and what we spent on fireworks probably could have fed a third world country for a day.

The next day I was up bright and early, much to the surprise of my fellow interns. They expected me to turn down a trip to the Air and Space Museum just because it was early in the morning! I probably wouldn't have gotten up that early for anything else, but I am very glad I did. The world war I & II exhibits were fascinating, and I got to see some models of NASA's next spacecraft. The IMAX theater and planetarium theaters were both much bigger than I expected, and we saw some films about flight and black holes. I had to leave before I could finish the exhibits because Tim, one of my bosses, was having a big party at his house. It was a long drive there, even longer than the drive we take to work. However, I can't express how worth it this party was. It had THE best food I've had here yet. Pardon me, I'm going to have to wax eloquent.

IN THIRD PLACE, FOR SHEAR FUN: SMORES! Hunting for sticks in forest behind Tim's house: nothing makes a smore taste better than roasting it on a stick you caught yourself.

IN SECOND PLACE, FOR BEST VEGETABLE SOUP EVER: TIM'S GAZPACHO!
I don't usually like vegetables. This soup made me see how wrong I was.

IN FIRST PLACE, BEST OF SHOW (drum roll please)
MARYLAND CRAB SOUP WITH BEER BREAD!
Ok, so I snuck two in here, but the soup and the bread went together so well. Meaty, crabby soup with lima beans and other vegetables, slightly sweet, crumbly bread with crisp crust...When I get home I will probably be severely reprimanded for not getting recipes.

Alright, enough antics. Eventually we had to excuse ourselves from the party because I had to go say goodbye to my dad, since he was on the early flight out. Just as we were leaving, the focus of EVERY modern social gathering was just starting. No, I'm not talking about drinking. I speak of Guitar Hero! Yes, everyone plays, even Tim. We dragged ourselves away from the party and I caught the metro out to the station where Dad was having dinner. I still managed to stuff in some interesting rosemary bread but I couldn't eat any more.

So I have covered two days, that's all there is to a weekend right? NO! I'm missing Sunday, and lets face it, I didn't want to do anything by this point. However, those persistent voices somehow dragged me out of bed again. I awoke on top of the tallest and most joked about building in DC: The Washington Monument. In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have gotten as close to the window as I could, then looked straight down. But I did, and then I had to do the same thing for all 8 tiny little windows, all with the same gut-wrenching vertical drop off effect. I tried to take pictures of it, but I don't think they do it justice. I found myself wondering if the monument swayed in the wind like a skyscraper, then wished I hadn't. Surprisingly enough, the monument DIDN'T fall down around me as I expected even though I'm sure its been there for 100 years or something, and I went back to my room and got all that sleep that I missed during the week.

Well, hopefully this is long enough to make up for
a.) not turning it in on time and b.) not having written much last time. And all that food talk made me hungry.

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Week of June 23, 2008

Tired this week. There was a lot going on so I didn't get a whole lot of work done. On monday we had a picnic at ACP and on wednesday we headed over to the CNSF exhibit. That was pretty interesting, especially since I found someone presenting a video game education environment. I also saw the proposed replacement for Sunspot, a solar telescope located in New Mexico. The new telescope relies on adaptive optics, which uses a mirror that flexes and distorts to compensate for atmospheric disturbances.

This week I've been trying to map out the potassium to thorium ratio on the moon, but I didn't get any results until about 3 today. I'm not sure what result I have now, and there's no one here I can check with until monday. I guess I'll just let it go and get on with the weekend. On Saturday we're all taking a trip to Baltimore, so hopefully I can get some good seafood. I have to go, but I'll try to write more next week.

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Week of June 16, 2008

This was actually a pretty fun week. I'm really starting to get into the rhythm of work here at NASA. It really is a comfortable place to work, and the most heated argument I have observed so far was simply debating whether the hydrogen at the poles of the moon was in the form of water or implanted in the rock. Its a great place to work.

For this week I decided to go off in a slightly different direction than Paul. I've been going over some old moon data to see if I can extract information about some key elements. Unfortunately, I've run into a wall and I'm going to have to see if my mentor can figure out what to do next. I still have the PCA stuff to do from last week so I've got plenty to occupy my time.

Every time I think I've gotten the hang of this programming stuff, I have to go online to figure out how to do the next part. I'm glad its so easy to find answers online or I would never get anywhere. I've gotten a lot of help with the math part of the programming from Paul's professor, Dave. He's a great guy and its really too bad he had to leave after a week. We got a second tour of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and this time I got pictures. I'll post some as soon as I put them on my laptop.

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Week of June 9, 2008

Not a lot happened this week. Actually, this is an outright lie. Plenty happened, I just didn't bother to write it down so it slipped my mind.

On monday and tuesday I played around with gamma ray detection estimates. While this probably wasn't really important, I appreciated having a project I could understand and have some fun with.

On wednesday we went to the retirement party for Jack Tonka, which was a lot of fun. Now, when I say I went to a retirement party, you would think that Jack might stop working at NASA. Not so. He's still around but people tease him more now. A lot of people have embarrassing stories to share after working with you for 40 years. I'll have to make a note to avoid that. After the party, we went ballroom dancing. No one was seriously injured, but its doubtful that I'll do it again.

Thursday got complicated because I was assigned to work on something called Principle Component Analysis (PCA); ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies. I'm not thrilled to be working on it, but I need to learn the programming somehow. I'm amazed at how much real data is online. I've been on the web all day NOT messing around.

Today: what can I say about it? I spent it mostly staring at some papers about PCA, then making drawings about the problem I'm trying to solve. I eventually came to an understanding of what I need to do. Maybe I am a visual learner after all. It really is amazing how quickly the days are going by, but all in all this was not a good week for me. Bad news from home has had me down all week and I wish I could be there to help.

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"Washington DCA has one of the shortest runways in the country" our pilot commented as we were thrown against our seat belts. This was the first of many welcomes to Washington DC, the rest of which were more pleasant than removing a seat belt from your midsection. Not long after touchdown, we were informed that there was going to be a wait until we could disembark. I won't go into details, but what happened next was the boring, ordinary woes of a traveler with too much baggage. Suffice to say that I eventually wound up at the correct building with the correct key and luggage. As I was preparing to unpack and settle in for some much needed rest I received a call from Meagan, one of my fellow interns. She told me that the rest of the interns had already arrived and that they were having dinner at some undisclosed location. Now, I've never been to Washington DC before, so I had no idea where Pentagon City was. I'm still amazed that I found my way through the metro and to the restaurant. I attribute this success to Meagan's excellent directions, which took me every step along the way. Thank you!

After this introduction to the group, we had a meeting with the AIP (American Institute of Physics) and SPS (Society of Physics Students). These were the people who had arranged everything about our internships. They also host an awesome tour (hooray for bagels)! After we had finished up the final tasks they had for us, it was time to go visit the places we would be working. Liz, Paul (the other NASA intern) and I headed out to Gouda Space Flight Center, where they had a special welcome in store for us. We got to take a look at the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which carries the instrument we will be studying, LEND (Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector).

So far the rest of the week has been mostly been calming down, and I've been adjusting to DC time. Its very strange to plan for a one hour commute to work, since I've always been within walking distance of my school. Driving in DC looks horrible, and I'm really glad that I'm not the one who has to do it (thanks Paul). Also, Its really funny that Paul doesn't know how to pump his own gas, being from Jersey.

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