One might expect a physics or math major to intern at National Aeronautics and Space Administration Headquarters in Washington, D.C., but senior Madi Moore is proving that English majors can do important work in the space industry, as well.
As a participant of the Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program this semester, Moore works in the NASA History Office, which is part of the Office of Communications. Moore said that being an English major frequently comes in handy on the job.
“It’s excellent,” Moore said of the internship. “It’s a great opportunity for any humanities major.”
She writes posts for NASA’s social media pages and assists with publications, which can include helping copy editors look through primary documents and making sure copyright data is submitted to the Library of Congress.
In addition, she sometimes helps with social events, such as a recent International Space Station Day, where she greeted and helped people with registration and was
also able to attend talks about NASA history and meet some astronauts.
She wrote an article for the history office’s quarterly newsletter, giving her a rare opportunity to conduct research within the NASA archives. Her article explained the history of centrifugal space stations, which are shaped like wheels to produce artificial gravity with centrifugal force, both in reality and in science fiction.
“That’s definitely where my English major has chiefly come in,” Moore said. “But you would be surprised how long it takes to write a well-researched, interesting Facebook post. You have to be accurate or people will call you out, and you have to be interesting or people won’t read it.”
Moore’s research on NASA’s history has led her to discover several interesting stories, but she said one was particularly intriguing. In early missions on the International Space Station, astronauts drank powdered coffee, customized with their preferred amounts of cream and sugar, which they mixed with water.
However, Italian astronauts missed the espresso they were used to having back home and objected to the powdered mixture. This led an Italian company to invent an espresso machine that works in zero gravity, and an Italian astronaut made a cup that also worked in space.
“I thought it was hilarious how extensively the Italians were invested in their espresso,” Moore said.
Moore found the internship after searching online for an opportunity at NASA and said it wasn’t easy to find. She added that she was inspired by recent movies she watched that made her want to work at NASA despite not being a science major.
“I saw ‘Interstellar’ my freshman year,” Moore said. “It made me think whether I should be a physics major. The movie reminded me of the wonder that I felt when I was a kid and wanted to be the first woman on the moon, and how much I liked space.” She said that watching “The Martian” was similarly enlightening.
“I was very intrigued by that movie because it represented individuals at NASA who were not scientists, like administrators and communication officers,” Moore said. “I was surprised to realize there must be a lot of jobs at NASA that were not scientists. That’s basically where I started my search.”
Assistant Professor of English Benedict Whalen, Moore’s academic adviser, praised her thoughtfulness in pursuing this internship. He said an English major working NASA may seem unexpected, but didn’t strike him as too surprising.
“She was uniting seemingly disparate interests and talents,” Whalen said.
He said that this internship is an excellent example of uniting different components of the liberal arts and finding truth by studying them together as they ought to be studied.
Rebecca Charbonneau, an intern at NASA who works closely with Moore, said she admires and enjoys working with Moore.
“She’s certainly one of the most insightful and clever people I’ve ever worked with,” Charbonneau said. “She really is a unique person. I think she’s going to do really really cool things in the future.”
Moore said that she is not certain where she’ll work after she graduates, but that her time in Washington, D.C. has helped her realize what she wants in a career. She added that she is passionate about the space industry and excited about the future.
“I think that the space industry is on a rise and that people should take it more seriously in the future,” she said. “I think it will come into play very soon. It’s overt in pop culture and science, as we can see now with the rise of space-related trends in fashion and film. It seems very clear to me that the American imagination is returning to space, and I would encourage people to pay attention to that.”