Launching My Career into the Stratosphere

Launching My Career into the Stratosphere

The payload’s buzzer alarm filtered down through the Virginia forest; we had found it. We now knew at least some part of the payload survived a 100,000-foot-high trip to the stratosphere, and we were able to find it again. Dangling about 50 feet in the air were the remains of our space balloon. I wish I could say that I was the one who was able to snag the branch using a slingshot and fishing wire, but that honor went to another of my colleagues.

Part of the payload was a mini-figure avatar of Engility’s senior vice president for the Space and Mission Systems Group, Mark Bruno. The group’s technical director, Darwin Bingham, had included mini-Mark as part of the company’s Flat Stanley contest. We’d been trying to get it down for over an hour, and were about to try using a bow and arrow, when it finally fell. Darwin screamed out that mini-Mark survived! He was so excited, he could hardly contain himself. After we trekked back to our cars with the intact cameras in hand, we found we had captured the money shot of mini-Mark outlined against the curvature of the earth.

Internships with Slingshots and Mini-figures?

How did my summer internship with Engility lead me to the backwoods of Virginia, toting a slingshot and searching for mini-figures, you ask? I, and other interns, were invited to join Darwin and other Engility employees in some after-work-hours fun…could we affordably get a payload into the stratosphere?

The launch demonstrated that we could indeed launch and retrieve a high-altitude balloon with limited manpower and budget…not to mention it was a fun hands-on experience for the interns and a social/team-building activity. It was nice to work with colleagues and my bosses on something that wasn’t related to my internship project. You get to know people better and it was fun to actually build and troubleshoot hardware. The most fun part was just the experience of launch day and finding a place to launch, then trying to track the balloon, then walking through the woods in hopes of finding the cameras, it was something I hadn’t imagined I’d do with my bosses. Did I mention I drove a chase car, helped inflate the balloon, and ultimately launched our creation skyward?

Launching My Career into the Stratosphere

Two Hemispheres; Two Great Experiences

This was my second summer working as an Engility intern. The summer before last, I worked as a research assistant at the South African National Space Agency in Hermanus, South Africa, about an hour and a half east of Cape Town. That experience was vastly different for many reasons, and the experience of doing research versus working on a contractor project is also very different. In South Africa, I worked with people from very dissimilar backgrounds and lived in another country for some time. I didn’t anticipate all the minute cultural differences I’d encounter. Working at Engility introduced me to corporate culture and opened my eyes to the whole government contractor world. Both were pretty technical, and the whole work environment is very distinctive.

Little did I imagine the fun I would have this summer. I hope my graduate studies are half as interesting.

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Posted by Megan Avery

I just graduated in April from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor with a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering. I’m now going back to Michigan to pursue a master’s degree in Space Engineering. I’m originally from the Chicago area, I played Euphonium in the Michigan Marching Band, I like to ride motorcycles, and love the space industry.