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Student Blogger: At my NASA internship, failure was not an option

March 15, 2011

David Roberts

There’s an old saying that’s been floating around the space program ever since it was first uttered by Gene Kranz back when we were still putting men on the moon: “Failure is not an option.”

One of my most memorable internships was for a career path I long since departed. Just because you take a job and realize it’s not for you doesn’t mean you should lose hope.

In the summer of 2008, I interned with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. At the time, it was a dream come true. Living in Orlando, I’d driven over to see numerous launches which first ignited my love for the space program. My math abilities led me to what I thought would be a bright future in aerospace engineering.

My internship, for starters, was phenomenal. Every day I was working on pieces of space hardware that are now moving thousands of miles an hour above our heads on the International Space Station. I also took tours to the top of the launch pad and walked through the orbiter Discovery. What’s not to love?

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell peers at Earth from the Cupola room of the International Space Station in September 2010. During his summer 2008 internship at NASA, David Roberts got to work on some of the space station's components.

Although the sights and sounds were unforgettable, I had trouble finding an interest in certain assignments. Although I quickly became disenchanted with engineering work, my coworkers showed extreme flexibility to also allow me to see other areas of the operation, leading me to a future in finance and regulation. While not every job will be as accommodating and you will still be required to complete certain work items, don’t be afraid to speak up and let your supervisor know what does and doesn’t interest you. It’d be a shame to lose an entire summer due to a little shyness.

While the Shuttle program at NASA is about to say its final goodbyes this summer, I’ll always remember my wonderful experience there. Even though my career path has taken me in a new direction, I still keep my eye on launch dates and read up on some of the exciting new opportunities coming down the road at NASA and its many offices across the country.

Have you ever had an internship that made you realize a certain major wasn’t for you? How did you handle the situation, and what seemed to work best?

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