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Closing Time


When kids have summer off in Middle School, they usually go to Summer Camp where they’ll play games, meet new people, spend time away from home, and enjoy being a kid. When nerdy kids in college have summer off, they go get an internship at NASA and do much the same!

This summer at NASA has been an unforgettable experience. I’ve been able to meet test pilots, astronauts, brilliant engineers and scientists, and get to become friends with the coolest gang of interns you could hope to end up with. We all shared a passion for hiking, late night board games, nerdy stuff about heat shields, and of course, anything NASA related. I had no idea what to expect when I rolled up to the front door with my neon green suitcase and black duffel bag, but it was everything I hoped for and more. This is a recounting of my last few weeks at NASA Ames.

Following my trip to Edwards, I had a lot of work to catch up on. By the end of that week, I had to get a rough draft of my presentation ready: no small feat when it had to make it through the approval of the world’s leading engineers in entry systems technology who knew this stuff better than you knew the back of your own hand. I stayed late nights and even had to forego trips to the gym to make sure I would get the results I needed in time. That being said, I was still able to fit trips to Game Kastle (our newest board game haunt) in for at least two nights. When Friday rolled around, I was able to scrape together enough plots for a presentation that was sufficient by their standards. It still had a long way to go, but the edits were not that major and I was in a good shape for my second practice presentation the following Monday.

With it being my last weekend to do stuff in the Bay Area, I took Saturday as a chill day to play more board games, bike out to the Stanford Dish Loop, and chow down on some awesome donuts from my newest favorite donut shop: Happy Donuts. The last time I ate a cinnamon bun from this place, it gave me enough energy to bike 26 miles and hike up and down a mountain in a day, so clearly it had something extra special in its glaze. That Saturday, I enjoyed another beautiful, cloudless, 80’ degree day as I hiked the 3 mile loop and mounted my bike for the journey back. Later in the evening, my friends and I met up for board games and dinner at the closest burger joint we could stumble into.

The following day, I met up with a close friend of mine from Georgia Tech. We were planning to meet in North San Francisco by the Golden Gate Bridge, but I bought the wrong bus ticket to get from the train station to the Presidio. Being the cheapskate that I am, instead of spending the $4 for the right bus ticket, I made the executive decision to “speedwalk” the 4.5 miles across San Francisco to meet her. Cutting right through the heart of the city, I was able to view Chinatown firsthand and experience the “fun” of San Francisco’s hills. Nonetheless, I got a good feel for the vibe of SF. I believe every city has a personality to it, and I certainly got to experience this one as I sped through the crowded streets. Luckily enough, my legs were able to make it there in one piece and on time!


I met her under the massive arched dome of the museum. We spent the first hour just catching up and trading stories about what we were doing at our respective internships. Then, we walked over to a large, grassy picnic area ringed by food trucks of various persuasions. We settled on one that sold delicious Chinese food at a price that didn’t make my wallet cry. After a lunch filled with more catching up, we meandered along a trail that brought us down to the waterfront and under the shadow of the impressive Golden Gate Bridge. We were feeling pretty ambitious that day, so we hiked up a steep path to the entrance of the bridge itself. The adventure continued as we walked all the way across the mile long bridge and back.


Our legs were feeling pretty sore by the end of it, so we hitched a bus from the Bridge over to Ghirardelli Square. After snagging some free chocolate samples from the store, we made our way down to Pier 39 to grab some famous sourdough bread bowls and clam chowder. Sitting there and enjoying a bowl of SF’s finest was a wonderful way to wrap up my time in the Bay Area. We rode back to the train station where I was dropped off for my 6:30pm train. Although I made it the entire summer without getting sunburnt, today was finally the day that I slipped: I forgot to pack sunscreen and boarded the train as bright as a cherry tomato! In addition to that, we hiked over 10 miles that day and my legs were certainly feeling it. Once I got onto that train, I collapsed into the seat and listened to my new favorite podcast, “The Fighter Pilot Podcast.”


The upcoming week would be my last, which was filled with dozens of happy and sad moments. I went through my practice presentation on Monday without encountering any major hitches and received some helpful advice to refine my final presentation for Thursday. Between working out and Game Kastle, I was able to coast the last couple of days until the final presentation. When the big day finally arrived, I was nervous but excited. I had practiced the 12 minute talk a half dozen times, but I was afraid that I might screw up and say the wrong thing in front of a room full of engineers who had been doing this for 20+ years.

As we went up one by one, my slot finally arrived at 10:15am. I got up in front of the room, faced the thirty or so odd people sitting in front of me, and did what I did best: faked it till I made it. The twelve minutes of terror went by in a heartbeat and before I knew it, I had hit my final slide. I was able to deliver everything I had hoped to say and do so without getting my tongue in a knot. Even better, shortly after my presentation we were all invited out to the main lawn for a free lunch with lots of goodies being given away! I grabbed my fill of free stuff and stuffed my face with delicious hot dogs and coleslaw.


With a full stomach, I headed over to man my poster at the poster session for the next two hours. Tucked away in a corner behind someone else, I felt like I was hiding out at a High School dance all over again. Even worse, any time I made eye contact with someone, they would duck away and move on to someone else’s poster, leaving me to stand there in solitude. I guess poster sessions aren’t quite my thing: I like to go up to others and engage in conversation. I’m not a huge fan of waiting around for others to come to me. In the down time I was able to find, I did end up doing just that. I made a sweep of the perimeter and visited some of my friends’ posters. I was eager to check out the work I’d been hearing about all summer long! When the poster session finally came to a close, I skedaddled out of there to catch the tail end of our branch presentations. I made it back just in time to hear about someone who modeled the different violent and ultraviolet spectrums of Titan’s atmosphere (fascinating stuff, really).

After sitting through five or six more presentations with topics that went so far over my head I couldn’t even reach them, we wound down the day with a beer and wine party in the building’s cozy, little kitchen. Our boss had filled the fridge with so much alcoholic beverages that it was practically coming off the hinges! The party was a great celebration to the conclusion of our time here at Ames and the fact that no one had passed out during their presentation. It was a bittersweet ending, because as we all said our congrats, we also knew that it was the last time we would all be united.


That evening we met up at our favorite haunt for one last get-together: the mother of all game stores, Game Kastle. As the hours passed, we joked and laughed and acted like this wasn’t the end of it all. We followed up with some Thai food across the street that we were seriously underdressed for. Afterwards, we gathered in the parking lot to say our goodbyes. With awkward hugs exchanged and numerous slaps on the back given, I’ll admit that it was tough to see the faces depart.

I packed up the next day like I always do: at the very last possible minute. As I shoveled my clothes one by one into the suitcase, I reflected on what a truly incredible experience I had at NASA Ames. I mean, it’s NASA! The place I had been dreaming about for years. The organization that had brought man to the Moon and images from the farthest reaches of our solar system to the comforts of our home television set. Although I was just a small gear in the giant machine of progress, I was putting in blood, sweat, and tears to keep it grinding forward and delivering us to a brighter future (okay, maybe I’m being a tad dramatic). I guess the point I’m trying to make is this: the work we did was meaningful.


Even more important to me, however, were the friendships I made. This world-class group of people is one that I’ll hardly forget any time soon. From their willingness to help out no matter how small the problem, to the playful banter we would have on hikes that started at 7am, to the numerous downtown trips to overpriced restaurants along Castro Street, the people you live and work with are what have the biggest impact on your job, your happiness, and even your life. Their words and wisdom leave marks on the soul that stay with you long after you’ve left them. That, right there, is why I had one of the most remarkable summers that I’ve had in many, many years. If any of you are reading this right now, thank you! I’ll wrap this blog up in the words of our current NASA chief administrator: “Ad Astra!”


Posted by oklempay 17:47 Archived in USA Tagged travel california friends nasa moon san_francisco sf hikes presentations friendships ames ad_astra game_kastle boardgames

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