VESSS Summer Academy with NASA

Contributing Writer: Melianty Yularnis | Images: CCN and Interns of VESSS Summer Academy (Blog:–

VESSS, Virginia Earth System Science Scholars is a program that explores the world of science through technology, interactive science, engineering, and mathematics. It goes more in depth with the world of science as it partnerships with Langley NASA Research Center and Virginia Space Grant Consortium. In addition, Hampton University’s Center for Atmospheric Research and Education contributes funding in offering online courses for the Academy; in partnership to give students dual enrollment college credit with Thomas Nelson Community College. This program reaches out to students going into their senior year of high school or first year of college. It brings a great opportunity for students to grasp a hands-on-experience to work on a NASA related research. During the week, alongside the students were engineers, scientists, and technologists that shared their knowledge to aid the students.

I was able to participate in the VESSS Summer Academy during July 16 – July 22. The week started off with traffic for scholars driving down to Christopher Newport University but even with the long drive, the scholars were excited to see what the week would hold for them. After getting settled into our dorms, we went straight to work on building a team with the people we would be working with for the week. Our mission was to bring a ball across a couple of feet with pipes. It was not an easy task but with collaboration and cooperation, we were able to accomplish our first mission.


All week we were able to meet new people, scientists and engineers, administers, and technologists. Also Contamination Specialists who work with NASA, Elaine Seasly and Gugu Rutherford, who were able to give us an insight of what they do and how they got to it, through their work experience and education. They enlightened us on how to see contamination in a new perspective; as how a small mistake in cleaning an instrument could jeopardize a mission. After learning about this, they gave us a challenge to test out our contamination skills and engineering abilities. We were to build our own glovebox that will help us with contaminations-another task that wasn’t easy at all. Then we received a package that we had to solve within our glovebox, but with teamwork, the team I was on was able to be awarded 3rd place. We began to understand that this week would not be a mission we could overcome so easily but a mission that needed teamwork and all our efforts to succeed in.


It came time for our real mission, creating a technology that would study our focus topic, each team of 8 or 9 were assigned a certain sphere of the earth, Atmosphere, Biosphere, Hydrosphere and Lithosphere. Each person was also assigned a role that consisted to being mission manager, a researcher, budget, contamination and a few others. Each position held their own responsibilities but as a team, it was either all or nothing. Collaboration stood as an importance-staying up long nights, researching to our hearts’ content, and presenting proposals for our mission. We struggled all together because “no man left behind”. One of our biggest issues was our budget, we figured that all 4 team would have to collaborate together and create partnerships with other organizations. This would enable us to have enough money for everything needed, for the scientists and proper safety procedure, our instruments, and every detail of our mission. We studied so much that we ate, slept, and talked about our missions.

To properly discuss our mission with other teams, we had to hold meetings that took money from our budget, we grew an understanding that money is time, meeting requirements are mandatory.

All this effort and hard work that enabled us to be prepared in presenting our missions in a panel presentation. I will promise you that I was nervous about speaking out loud to experts, the thought that we were being streamed live, and you could not forget the questions that came at the end; yet the support from the team, I grew confidence and overcame my fear. We worked hard for that moment and we tackled the presentation down, together.

Even with all the hard work, we were able to take breaks and site Langley NASA, visit the Virginia Living Museum, meet many people who work at NASA and also, met Astronaut Scott Altman. We were able to check out the Contamination Center Gugu and Elaine work their magic. The Hanger that was also on our list, it was full of airplanes and little drones. Some of us got a chance to firsthand watch a plane take off. Many more sites were seen and the amazement never ended.

One evening, all of us were taken to have dinner at the Virginia Living Museum but before dinner, checked out the Planetarium and had a little peak into the stars that have seen history make a living. Then we were free to enjoy dinner and see the Museum, it was as if it was a miniature zoo right there and then.

On one of the days of working, a special guest presented himself to us, Astronaut Scott Altman. He shared with us his life, from being a pilot in the Navy, to his failures, but his passion in flying. All that has brought him to where he is today.

Throughout the week, we all worked hard, made unforgettable friendships and met many different people who came to mentor us about our research and presentation. There is no doubt in my mind that without people like them contributing their time and efforts, alongside our master teachers and the interns, we would not have made it by the end of the week, nor would we gain the knowledge we have received. They were all true inspirations in my eyes and must be for many others because we all made it together and ready to share our irreplaceable experience when we get home.


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