An Awesome Opportunity: NASA Student Airborne Research Program (SARP)

Due to a change in funding, the website and contact information for SARP has changed. The dates, deadlines and links have all been updated within the post to reflect the new information for the SARP 2017 application cycle. Information is accurate as of Nov 15, 2016

3Two summers ago, I was granted a fabulous opportunity to be a part of the NASA Student Airborne Research Program (SARP). This program is directed at rising senior undergrads in STEM majors with the aim of allowing students to get hands-on experience in scientific research! And when I say “hands-on,” I mean hands on.

NASA SARP is an eight-week program that allows a total of 32 students of any STEM major to participate in multi-disciplinary Earth Science research. The first two weeks of the program take place at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, in Palmdale, CA. Here, each student spends the first week getting a crash course in all things earth science, so no prior experience necessary! You dive into the fundamentals of the atmosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere and touch on key processes, useful instrumentation and current research going on in all these fields! Students then get to choose which research project they want to become a part of. After a brief introduction of each project, students can choose to join one of four options:

  • Atmospheric Science: Whole Air Sampling
  • Atmospheric Science: Air Quality and Aerosols
  • Oceanic Processes
  • Forest Remote Sensing

Each group includes a faculty member along with accompanying graduate students that serve as mentors and help guide the students’ research throughout the rest of the summer. However, more exciting things are to come. The first half of the second week of this internship involves preparation for the scientific field campaign that is to occur in the latter half of the week. All 32 students take turns with their respective groups and make sure all the instruments are loaded up and in working order in the tiny, little area that’s shown below:


Above pictures from NASA SARP on Facebook

But here’s the kicker, that tiny little area is actually in a plane!

(left) Photo from NASA on Facebook; (right) Photo from NASA SARP on Facebook

That’s right, by the end of the second week into the program, students take turns participating in a series of flights to collect air samples of trace pollutants, monitor concentrations of aerosols, ozone and other greenhouse gases, take topographic images and other remote sensing data from all over California! During my year we flew all around the state covering locations such as the Central Valley, LA Basin, Inland Empire, and part of the Cochella Valley collecting data that was later analyzed at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and eventually condensed into a 12 minute presentation at the end of the eight weeks.

Of course, the remaining weeks following the flights aren’t all work and no play. Students take breaks from their data analysis and go on multiple trips to places like NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the California Institute of Technology, SpaceX, the Edward Air Force Base and other field locations (which change yearly) as needed to collect even more data!

I personally worked in the Whole Air Sampling group during my year, led by Dr. Donald Blake and his grad student Josette Marrero (now postdoc at NASA Ames). This group is arguably the busiest during the DC-8 flights, as we were constantly up and about working to fill fancy-looking canisters with samples of trace gases (see right) during critical times during the flight. We are also arguably the busiest during the data analysis part too, waking up bright and early to begin analysis of these cans at the UCI campus in order to determine the concentrations of each of the gases via gas chromatograpy.

10Overall, this internship is a fantastic experience that not only teaches valuable research skills, but exposes students to a field that very few are familiar with! I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for taking a risk and applying to spend a summer with NASA SARP. That’s why I am encouraging all you readers to apply!

NASA SARP 2017 will take begin June 18, 2017 and conclude on August 11th. Aside from the amazing, unique experiences and amazing friends you will make, students who are accepted also receive a $5000 stipend, a travel allowance and free housing and transportation during the full eight weeks!

To check out the eligibility requirements, download the application, and see student projects from previous years, please explore their website, linked at the end of this post. You can also send any further questions you may have to their Project Manager, Emily Schaller at nasasarp@baeri.org.

This year’s application deadline is Wednesday February 1, 2017. Don’t miss this opportunity!

Lastly, for a description of the program from a more recent SARP alumni, go check out:
A Summer with NASA’s Student Airborne Research Program by Taylor Krause

7Photo from NASA SARP on Facebook of SARP 2014!

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