Not many 19-year-olds can say they’ve researched methods for protecting
Earth from asteroids. But thanks to a summer internship at the National
Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) in Huntsville, Ala., Rakia Law,
a sophomore at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, can truthfully make
that claim.

More than 40 students and university professors from across the nation
participated in summer research programs at the research center, a
partnership between NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville,
industry and Alabama’s research universities. While Law studied asteroids,
other visiting researchers tackled projects ranging from meteorological
research to improving astronaut gloves.

Law’s experience is part of NASA’s Equal Opportunity Summer Scholars
Internship Program, which pairs minority and disabled college students with
NASA researchers and engineers as mentors. Through the Minorities in Science
and Engineering Program, she spent 10 weeks working with Dr. Jonathan W.
Campbell, a NASA astrophysicist and space scientist who researches advanced
projects, technologies and concepts for future NASA missions at the National
Space Science and Technology Center.

Among these projects is protecting Earth from asteroids and other
space-borne objects. “There’s a significant number of asteroids that may
pose a potential danger to Earth,” Law said. “I spent the summer researching
these objects and exploring methods — such as deflecting them with lasers
— to prevent them from impacting our planet.”

Another summer researcher, Patrick V. Hull, focused on friction
modification. A doctorate student from Tennessee Technological University in
Cookeville, he used a prototype miniature actuator, a mechanical device
about the size of a dime, to change the surface roughness of a wide array of
materials. Then, he determined which surfaces have better gripping

“A potential benefit of this research,” Hull said, “is the possibility it
could help improve materials used for astronaut gloves — and eventually
give astronauts a better grip during Extra Vehicular Activities, more
commonly called space walks.”

Hull, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from
Tennessee Technology University, believes the most beneficial part of his
summer experience is interacting with scientists who perform groundbreaking
research every day. “This has given me the chance to work with some very
creative and strong technically minded people here at NASA,” he said.

The summer research is supported by programs ranging from NASA education
initiatives such as the Summer High School Apprenticeship Research Program
and NASA Faculty Fellowship program to Universities Space Research
Association internships and other programs sponsored by Alabama research

Focusing on space science, earth science, materials science, biotechnology,
propulsion, information technology and advanced optics and energy
technology, collaboration at the NSSTC enables scientists, engineers and
educators to share research and other facilities.

More information on the National Space Science and Technology Center is
available at:

The NSSTC is a cooperative venture of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center,
Alabama A & M University, Auburn University, Tuskegee University, The
University of Alabama, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, The
University of Alabama in Huntsville, and The University of South Alabama.