VMHS student spends summer internship assisting NASA scientists

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Marshall Mory
Vista Murrieta High School junior Marshall Mory attends the Student Enhancement in Earth and Space Science summer internship hosted by the University of Texas at Austin. Valley News/Courtesy photo

In a sense, Marshall Mory, a junior at Vista Murrieta High School, was in a bubble working on developing a much larger bubble for astronauts to one day utilize in their time on Mars.

Mory spent his quarantine summer participating as an intern with the University of Texas at Austin assisting NASA scientists with Mars 2020 research and development.

“You were working in a bubble, designing a bigger bubble,” his mother Karen Mory said during a phone interview.

“You have to reduce the time that you’re out, making sure it’s quick and efficient in and out of (kind of like) the grocery store,” Marshall Mory said, laughing.

Mory was selected for the Student Enhancement in Earth and Space Science summer internship hosted by University of Texas’s Center for Space Research. The nationally competitive program sponsored by NASA’s Texas Space Grant Consortium selects students to conduct authentic research using NASA data.

“Working as a SEES intern with NASA and UT Austin was an amazing experience,” Mory said. “My team of student interns came from different states across the nation, with various backgrounds and experiences. The one common connection between all of us is a passion for STEM and space, the curiosity to explore and drive to learn. Although this internship had to be converted to a virtual format due to the pandemic, we learned to collaborate from a distance, in different time zones, under the guidance of amazing and dedicated mentors.”

During his time with the program, Mory worked with NASA scientists Dr. Humboldt Mandell, a NASA subject matter expert on Mars Exploration, and Adam Nokes, a professor at University of Texas.

Because of the virtual format, he said some of the processes were made more cumbersome, though he wasn’t complaining about the experience, not at all.

“It was also challenging just because of the way that everything was virtual, each day would be eight hours in the labs working with each other,” Mory said. “But even just to send a message, there are delays. There is making sure you have a connection; can’t really be outside in Zoom calls, you have to be on your computer. We only met like every other day for like an hour, so it was just the whole separation from the team. Probably the biggest challenge we had was a small question had to take the same priority as a bigger question.”

Mory said NASA is committed to the human exploration of Mars, but before sending humans, “There needs to be the infrastructure on the planet surface that is necessary to sustain the first crews to visit.”

During his internship, Mory worked on developing solutions for power, habitation, water, food, health maintenance, mobility (spacesuits and rovers), emergency ARE and scientific support functions.”

With the help of his mentors on the project, Mory used engineering design principles and his SEES team designed a Mars village that will allow people to live and work productively and safely for up to 1,000 days on the Mars surface.

“It was near a month of just independent research before we really started meeting a lot more often,” he said. “From there it was kind of more research and we were each assigned a specific task as a part of the presentation.

“I was in charge of food management and how that would be stored and prepared for the amount of time for the mission and the reserves, but I also worked together with a different group that was also focusing on agriculture on Mars, and then also in charge of like rover maintenance,” he said.

Mory said he did a lot of work with computer-aided drawings, and he provided detailed images for the team’s planned habitat. In fact, he was so adept, he was asked by Nokes to extend his internship and continue working on 3-D CAD drawings and designs for future internship programs.

“Without the SEES internship experience I would never have thought possible that I could contribute to science or work together with a NASA legend and an inspirational STEM professor from a well-respected university,” Mory said. “This experience validated my desire and ability to become a mechanical or aeronautical engineer and possibly work for NASA one day.”

He said pursuing a future in aeronautics wasn’t always an interest.

“I never really looked into the small things that they do,” Mory said. “Working with people that have been in NASA, they shared their experiences and it sounds really cool. It definitely put that more into consideration for an aerospace major. I was mainly going to go for mechanical, but now I have aerospace on my mind. It was definitely interesting, and it opened a whole lot of new things.”

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.