Alison Gibbings talks about her placement at Nasa.

Alison was first interviewed by us in 2005 when she was in her third year of her MEng aeronautics and astronautics course. What has she been up to since?

I’ve done so many things! After a summer placement at EADS Astrium Ltd I continued my degree and, as part of a university team, decided to enter the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) student parabolic flight campaign –we got shortlisted but didn’t win!

I then did a three-week summer course at Umea University in Sweden studying space science and technology. The course focussed on the Venus Express and Rosetta missions and included a visit to the European Space Launching Range. Being located so far north, we were ideally placed to study magnetosphere and atmospheric physics in addition to conventional space subjects. It was also interesting to study in a different culture and with students from a wide range of technical backgrounds.

I completed my degree in June and have just started my graduate job with LogicaCMG [an IT solutions company]. Just before starting, I spent the summer on a placement at the Nasa Goddard Space Centre in the United States, where I was a research associate on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

How did you find out about the NASA placement?

I was registered on ESA’s education office mailing list and first read about the Nasa opportunity in their newsletter. Although I was really busy with my final year, I quickly submitted the application; I never thought I would get accepted. Two months later I got a call from ESA to say that I had got the all-expenses-paid placement and could not believe it – I would be representing ESA at the Nasa Academy!

What did your role entail?

My main role was as research associate on the JWST project but I also went to meetings and discussions on other topics. Research associates also had to speak at workshops and tours as well as working on our group project. Needless to say I did not get that much sleep!

I mainly worked alongside systems engineers. Goddard leads JWST’s development and overall management, and the JWST team are incredibly friendly and open, always willing to discuss their current work and research. I worked under the guidance of Dr Brent Bos who, despite his hectic schedule, constantly made time to discuss new ideas and concepts.

What kind of roles did your colleagues have?

The other 16 research associates had a variety of roles that spanned many areas of Goddard’s research, investigation and development activities, such as flight dynamics of the lunar reconnaissance orbiter and instrument development of the Mars dust cyclone.

What was the experience like?

Amazing – the summer flew by too quickly! Being the only intern from England, I managed to fit in very quickly and over time grew to love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! It was a very dynamic place to work and I greatly appreciated my role within it, learning how the results from my research will contribute to the long-term success, development, integration and final launch of the telescope.

The Academy programme also included lots of visits to other organisations such as Lockheed Martin and the Kennedy Space Centre, where I witnessed my first VIP shuttle launch, a truly remarkable experience! We all boarded together in the same house and in the evenings professionals such as Dr John Mather, the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics winner, would come to give us personal lectures about their views and ideas. All the speakers gave inspiring presentations which were then followed by an open discussion.

What next?

In my job at LogicaCMG I am working in bid management within the Space and Defence department, which will help me to understand more about commercial organisations. I am also working towards my chartered engineering status. I am now a Nasa Academy alumni, so I have a commitment to promote communication, fellowship and camaraderie between all alumni as well as facilitating participation in programmes and projects.

Next summer I will be attending the International Space University (ISU) summer session programme and who knows, maybe doing a PhD. I am determined to make a significant contribution to the development and success of the space industry.