Expect Zac Eilert to be on cloud nine for a while. He spent July building and launching rockets at the Kennedy Space Center, and was among the first to see images of Pluto taken by the New Horizons spacecraft.
His personal voyage from Worcester State to Cape Canaveral, Florida began when he applied for NASA’s Launching 2 Learn internship. Eilert, a natural science major with a minor in physics, was one of 20 college students nationwide to be accepted for this paid internship and the first WSU student to intern with NASA.
As WSU’s representatives to the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium, Earth, Environment, and Physics Department faculty members Professor Sudha Swaminathan, Ph.D., Associate Professor Frank Lamelas, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Matthias Dietrich, Ph.D., are informed of student opportunities like this and help interested students apply.
Between July 6 and 31, Eilert and the other interns built level 1,2, and 3 high-power rockets during the week and launched them on the weekends at events sponsored by the National Association of Rocketry. When they weren’t building or launching the rockets, the interns were “learning the science behind the actual rockets used by NASA/Air Force, which include the Saturn 1B, the Saturn V, Delta IV, Atlas V, Solid Rocket Boosters (on shuttle missions), Mercury Redstone missiles/rockets, Navaho missiles, Agena rocket, Titan, Thor, etc.,” Eilert explains.
“The central point to all of this science and math is that safety in all aspects of the build is key: safety for the engineers, safety for the scientists, and, most importantly, the safety of those brave individuals who NASA sends into space,” he adds.
The interns got to watch the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets launch. “The launches are amazing to see and feel because you are physically watching a grand object shoot into space right in front of you,” Eilert says.
New Horizons’ Voyage by Pluto
“I was ecstatic when I found out that I would be at NASA during the flyby of Pluto,” Eilert recalls. An aspiring astrophysicist and founder of WSU’s new Astronomy Club, he has been “following the New Horizons journey since its launch in 2006 from Kennedy Space Center.” He was 13 at the time.
While the New Horizons spacecraft was controlled by the Applied Physics Laboratory at John Hopkins University, Eilert was among the first people at the Kennedy Space Center to see images of Pluto and its moon Charon before they were distributed publicly.
“We jumped for joy here and could barely contain ourselves,” he says. “We remembered the journeys that took Voyager, Mariner, and Pioneer to different worlds while watching New Horizons travel to the outer edges of our solar system.”
Being so closely involved in such a historic moment solidified Eilert’s “decision to pursue a degree in astrophysics and to continue my studies at Worcester State University,” he says.
Eilert spent his work days in a lab called Rocket University “perfecting and modeling” projects.
“Normally, we’d immediately get to work on our rockets or on calculations. The calculations are quite tedious; we had to account for the many variations a rocket could have, such as drag, lift, thrust, apogee, recovery, guidance, wind speed, air temperature, and altitude,” he says. He usually continued to work on them in his office after hours.
“We used everything that we’ve learned in class and at college,” Eilert says. “Everything we did was centered around the math and science previously taught to us in school. It absolutely highlights what gets me excited about my major. I can’t think of a better environment to grow and expand than at NASA. Every single question I’ve had here has been answered fully and in depth by the experts here.”
Eilert’s internship with NASA is an example of the additional learning opportunities and helpful professors available to Worcester State students. “Not only has Worcester State provided me with such a great opportunity,” Eilert says, “but it also has allowed me to fulfill my childhood dream of working for NASA.”
It’s an opportunity he wants available to future WSU students. “I believe that my internship will open many doors for other students. I’ve developed friendships and connections here at the center which I hope can accomplish that,” Eilert says.
Visit the Earth, Environment, and Physics Department Facebook page to view photos of Eilert’s internship.
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