GREENBELT, Md. – 15 June 11
Goddard Intern Learns the Importance of Technical Communication
By: Heather L. Ogletree
“Written communication is an essential skill for today’s technical workforce,” said Paul Racette of Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The NASA Undergraduate Student Research Project (USRP) agrees; each semester our interns complete a technical report as part of their internship requirements that explains their project, their findings, and what they anticipate for the future of their field. This spring, USRP went outside its normal conventions and sponsored Racette’s project which combined a hands-on experience with advanced technical writing entitled “Writing Technical Articles for a General Audience.”
Racette explained, “The ability to describe complex, technical concepts to a non-specialist is important for conveying understanding of projects, organizations, and missions.” So during the course of the 15 week semester, Michael Moraniec, a mechanical engineering major from the University of Maryland in College Park, conducted Landsat research, wrote a technical article, and completed a side project involving coding for radiometer data.
Landsat is a series of satellites that take specialized digital photographs of the Earth, enabling scientists to study and evaluate the dynamic changes caused by natural and human factors. Moraniec noted, “At the beginning, it took me a while to learn some of the technical aspects of what I was researching for the article.” Yet once he had a grasp of the material, he felt that he was able to see Landsat through both the scientists and engineers eyes, which brought a fresh perspective to his article. “The engineers build the satellite so that it acquires the kinds of data that scientists are interested in, but they usually don’t study that data,” stated Moraniec. “Whereas, scientists study the data the satellite collects, but don’t always know the engineering behind it.” Therefore, he was able to inform both parties of “all aspects of the satellite.” The article that Moraniec wrote is now going to be published in an upcoming version of earthzine.
The other part of Moraniec’s project was to modify Matlab codes created by Racette to analyze newly acquired radiometer data. Radiometers measure the power of electromagnetic radiation. This code allows Racette and his colleagues to read the radiometer data and to test new calibration algorithms. He said, “It was very difficult to work on this new calibration algorithm because it was still in its infancy, but providing my mentor with graphs and figures that he would eventually use in one of his proposals...made me feel that I was actually contributing to potential NASA missions.” He also explained that radiometers “could lead to a better understanding of the Earth and our impact on it.”
Moraniec admits that he had not previously considered NASA in his future. “I thought it was more for aerospace engineers,” he said. But now he sees that “there is a need for all types of engineering disciplines,” and he hopes to end up at NASA again after graduation.
As for the experience, Moraniec said, “I enjoyed learning about Landsat and utilizing Matlab to work on data analysis. It was also nice meeting the other interns and I appreciated the time my mentor spent with me. Not to mention, I like letting people think I am an astronaut when I tell them I work at NASA.’