NASA employees discuss travel to Mars with engineering students

NASA employees discuss travel to Mars with engineering students

NASA Days kicked off with the "Path to Mars" lecture on Tuesday. CW / Sam MacDonald

NASA is planning on traveling to Mars and wants engineering students from The University of Alabama to help it get there. 

A panel composed of UA alumni and current Marshall Space Flight Center employees spoke to a crowded room of engineering students yesterday about NASA’s attempt to complete deep space travel and reach Mars in a matter of mere decades.

The panel discussion titled “Path to Mars” was the official kickoff of NASA Days. NASA Days is a two-day event hosted by the College of Engineering and the Capstone Engineering Society to expose UA students to the many future career opportunities that are available to them at NASA and their industry partners.

The “Path to Mars” talk started with panelists informing students about NASA’s Space Launch System, which, according to SLS Assistant Program Director Tracy Johnson, will be the largest and most powerful rocket in history upon completion.

“It is the cornerstone of traveling to deep space,” deputy director of Marshal Space Flight Center Jody Singer went so far as to say.

Even with this groundbreaking technology in development, the panelists asserted that there are still numerous challenges that must be conquered before a trip to Mars is feasible.

“There are lots of challenges and needs we have to meet before we take that next step in space travel,” said Lybrease Woodard, the deputy manager of Mission Operations Lab.

The panelists expect UA engineering students to be part of the future solutions to these problems. “We’re going to Mars and we need you to learn what we are doing today and adapt that to help us go to Mars tomorrow,” Woodard said.

The discussion was not exclusively centered around informing and recruiting for the NASA employees, however. They also wanted to pass down the wisdom they have gained during their careers as well. “We want to tell you what we wish we knew when we were you age,” said Singer.

Woodard and others repeatedly emphasized how important leadership, adaptability and communication are to finding success in any engineering field. 

“As you are in school here, absolutely dig into technical work, but think about how you can integrate those skills into team work once you graduate,” said Reginald Alexander, a member of the Strategic Planning and Business Development team at Marshall Space Flight Center.

After the discussion concluded, speed mentoring sessions were hosted by members of the panel, giving students a chance to ask them specific questions relating to their jobs at Marshall Space Flight Center. A career fair also took place after the panel discussion.

NASA Days continues tomorrow. NASA exhibits will open at noon on Shelby Quad. There will be a lecture on solar dynamics at 3 p.m. and a lecture on the Europa mission at 4 p.m. in SERC 2036.

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