Merrimack student lands NASA internship with eyes on Venus

Merrimack College mechanical engineering major Sofia Basauri '19 has landed a 10-week internship at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. this summer to work alongside engineers preparing for a 2020 exploratory mission to Venus.

While she’s working for NASA, most of Basauri’s time will be spent helping construct prototypes of a rover that can get to Venus and then sustain itself while collecting data about the planet.

“Finding out I got the internship was such an intense rush of emotions,” Basauri said. “When I opened up my email account and saw that I had a message from NASA, my heart dropped.”

Basauri’s role in the construction process will be counter-intuitive because she’ll be looking for ways to mimic Venus’ harsh conditions to destroy the prototypes. Data collection from the tests will be a large part of Basauri’s days. Results of her destructive efforts will be used by engineers to make a better rover.

“NASA has selected five science investigations for refinement during the next year as a first step in choosing one or two missions for flight opportunities as early as 2020,” according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory website. “Three of those chosen have ties to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The submitted proposals would study Venus, near-Earth objects and a variety of asteroids.”

Basauri, of Portland, Ore., believes it’s important to get an internship early in her college career. She grew up sharing her father’s love and fascination for deep space exploration so the NASA internship seemed like a perfect application. She filed the application on-line April 3 and NASA Senior Engineer Dr. Jeffrey Hall recently reached out to Basauri letting her know that she landed the internship. She begins work May 23.

Merrimack College’s engineering department has helped prepare Basauri for the internship. Working at NASA gives Basauri the chance to use the experience and group work skills that she gained over the academic school year.

“A big difference at Merrimack is that everything we do is hands on,” she said. “From introduction to engineering classes to the big loads of calculus, professors make sure that students work together, alongside guidance from peer tutors and other professors, to develop an all-around sense of understanding.”



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