Project Themes

SEES Summer High School Intern Program


Astronaut Photography: Observing Earth from Space
NASA monitors our dynamic Earth using a variety of assets, from Earth-orbiting satellites to astronaut photography taken by crew on the International Space Station. Awareness of the fragility and beauty of Earth is important for people all over the world. This project will have interns working with astronaut photography of Earth to gain experience with research, communication, and creating content aimed at producing a product(s) that will enable the public to learn about the Earth. The plan is to have interns work together to develop content for a product(s), as well as gain experience using an online eLearning tool, so the product(s) created can be published on our NASA website. Be ready to do research, enhance your geography knowledge, learn about landforms and features on Earth, gain skills with communicating information effectively to others, and more!

Astronomy – Galaxy Classification
Our Earth is just a small part of the whole Universe. In the astronomy project, in addition to learning about the scale of the Universe the students have a chance to contribute to astronomy research through Citizen Science projects. We will be working on the Galaxy Zoo galaxy classification, finding clumps and tracing spiral arms projects. During the course of the internship, students will be helping astronomers process the vast amount of available data while discovering galaxy types. Interns will make conclusions about the frequency of different object types and learn about star formation and galaxy evolution through their own research.


Measuring Environmental Changes with Altimetry
Interns will examine altimetry products and parameters over a wide range of global surfaces (e.g. ice sheets, sea ice, vegetation, ocean) from two Earth observing laser altimeters; The Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), operational from 2003-2009 and ICESat-2, which launched in 2018. In addition, the interns will investigate other Earth observing satellite datasets and observations for furthering scientific discovery. The analyses will include data visualization and validation using independent resources and complementary measurements to explore how the comprehensive observations can inform investigations associated with Earth’s dynamic processes most influencing our environment and climate.

Weighing Where the Water Goes

Interns will analyze data from GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) and GRACE-FO, twin satellites that are making detailed measurements of Earth’s gravity field changes and revolutionizing investigations about Earth’s water resources over land, ice, and oceans, as well as earthquakes and crustal deformations. These discoveries are having far-reaching benefits to society and the world’s population. Summer projects vary year to year but past projects include future satellite gravity mission orbit design, identification of GRACE spatial patterns using machine learning algorithms, and determining which climate signals are able to be captured by GRACE and GRACE-FO.


Aerospace Engineering – SO2 Satellite
The Aerospace Engineering team will design a Satellite to Monitor Global Warming Sources/Solutions in Earth’s Upper Atmosphere. The team will choose environmental aspects to be monitored, define the satellite’s orbit, identify the sensors that are carried on the satellite, specify the satellite’s launch site, and the choose rocket to be used for the launch. Preliminary work will include having each team member, working with the team mentor: 1) Choose, learn about, and summarize information about a current Earth-orbiting environment monitoring satellite, 2) Identify, research, and propose an environmental phenomenon to be monitored by the satellite to be designed by the team, 3) Research one or more sensors to be used to monitor the phenomenon identified in item 2, and 4) Document and share the information with teammates before mid-July. When we meet as a team, we will choose from among the potential environmental phenomena proposed by you and your teammates, create a conceptual design of the chosen mission/satellite system, document our work by creating a video, present the video, and answer questions from viewers outside of our team.

Mars Exploration
NASA is committed to the human exploration of Mars. Many of the technologies are already in place, and the rocket boosters and some of the spacecraft required are currently being built. The small nuclear reactors required to provide the necessary power have already been designed and tested by the Department of Energy. But prior to sending humans to Mars, there needs to be the infrastructure on the planet surface that is necessary to sustain the first crews to visit. This includes power, habitation, water, food, health maintenance, mobility (space suits and rovers), emergency care, and scientific support functions. Using basic engineering design principles, interns will design a Mars village that will allow people to live and work productively and safely for up to 1000 days on the Mars surface. Small scale prototypes will be built by 3D printing.

Mars Rover Resource Utilization
Interns will design a rover mission to explore in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) on Mars. Key goals include Studying Mars Habitability, Seeking Signs of Past Microbial Life, Collecting and Caching Samples, and Preparing for Future Human Missions. Interns will select a landing site for a hypothetical rover mission, decide on an instrument payload for their rover, determine regions of interest for the rover to investigate, and plot a traverse for their rover using remote sensing data of their chosen landing site.

Moon Exploration and Habitation
Interns will form a team that is responsible for the research support of a double-blind cross check for Regolith Simulants used in research with a possible design of a lunar laboratory that is capable of sustaining a long-term human presence on the Moon. Success in this endeavor will require many areas of expertise, and each intern will each take on one of a variety of engineering or science roles that will make up one cohesive design team. Through gaining knowledge of the most pressing and current scientific questions about the Moon, the team will choose the most appropriate landing site that will not only provide the best opportunity to conduct science, but also one that will provide the valuable in-situ resources that will be needed for sustained human habitation on the lunar surface. The design phase of the lunar habitat allows for a vast amount of creativity and provides a unique view of how the disciplines of science, engineering, biology, physics, and chemistry are all needed for the success of any mission involving humans.


Artemis ROADS
Artemis ROADS is robotic challenge that gives novice teams of interns a chance to model their own NASA mission to the Moon, including flying to the mission site (via drone), surveying the landscape (via E I robot), and taking and analyzing samples. Teams will face challenges including engineering and programming, analysis of biological signatures and geologic features, and simulating flight to collect samples and successfully landing. Students will gain a better understanding of drones, EV3, basic programming through Lego Programming Software. The mission will include crater formation, digital microscopes, mission patch design, and robotic exploration.


Air Quality Initiative Group – GLOBE Mission EARTH
Students will have the opportunity to conduct intensive research investigations into air quality and other related topics, dependent on their interests with the Air Quality Initiative (AQI) Group, hosted by the GLOBE Mission EARTH Team and the NASA Langley Research Center. Real-time aerosols data will be extracted from the PurpleAir aerosols monitoring website. Each student will also receive equipment so they may collect data from their immediate environment utilizing The GLOBE Program’s standardized sampling protocols. This data will then be shared on GLOBE’s Visualization System, a cloud-based Geographic Information System (GIS) of citizen science data. Students will be free to choose research project topics based on their particular interests, within the science of air quality.

One of the current advancements in Astrobiology is the discovery of many types of extremophiles. Extremophiles are microorganisms that live and thrive in environments that would be fatal to us. In this course individuals will brainstorm questions and research these unique microorganisms including those that thrive without oxygen, live in high temperatures and under chemical stress factors. We will learn about the similarities and differences between Earth and Mars environments along with the different types of extremophiles that can be found on Earth. We will then pursue exploring these microorganisms to determine which extremophiles could potentially exist in specific environments on Mars because of their unique form of obtaining energy from their environments.

Astronomy – Age and Distance to a Globular Cluster
Students will determine the age and distance to an open cluster of stars. Open clusters are groups of stars that are thought to have formed (approximately) at the same time and are the same distance from Earth. The group of stars is roughly the same chemical composition as well. Students will use astronomy software to analyze the data collected and calculate the member stars’ magnitudes. Stars will be classified by spectral type and age can be determined. From this information, the approximate distance of the cluster can also be determined.

Example of an Open Cluster, NGC 2345. Image credit: Astrophotography by Jim Thommes

Asteroid Photometry – Spin, Composition, Shape and Distance

Currently, over 1 million asteroids are known to exist in the solar system, with most of them located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter in a region known as “The Asteroid Belt.”  In spite of their great numbers and relative nearness to the earth, very little is known about most of them– fewer than one percent of them have known rates of rotation or have had any modeling done to determine their shapes.  Rotation rate can be a clue to an asteroid’s composition—is it a solid object or a loose pile of rubble?  These are important things to know if, at some future date, one should be detected approaching earth on a path that might mean that something will have to be done about it.

In this project, students will examine one or more asteroids, using hundreds of images taken over the course of one or more nights with appropriate photometry software.  The images will be taken at several wavelengths from which the color (and any changes in it as the object rotates) determined, which can provide clues to the asteroid’s composition.  Light curves will also be measured in a single wavelength and from that a period of rotation determined, which can be a clue to the asteroid’s physical structure.  From the rotational data, a model of the asteroid’s shape will also be determined using light curves produced by asteroid analogs.  Finally, for the nights on which the data was collected, the distance from the asteroid to the earth will be determined using parallax, with images collected from two different continents on earth.

Earth System Explorers
The Earth System Explorers virtual internship engages interns with NASA satellite data products as well as the digital tools that scientists use to monitor and document our changing landscape and climate. In 2023, the Earth System Explorers team will focus on land cover change and the public health threat of mosquito vector-borne disease. The virtual format of the Earth System Explorers enables interns to conduct their internship from their homes. Like the other SEES teams, the project will engage participants in 120-150 hours of research, working closely with NASA SME mentors, however the internship is spread over eight weeks in June and July @15 hrs/week. Participants will be required to participate in live 2-3 hr. virtual team sessions every Wednesday, (either in the morning or the evening session), in addition to about 10 hours work on your own time each week. The work includes conducting local field research and data analysis using the GLOBE Observer data collection mobile app and online tools such as the GLOBE Advanced Data Access Tool, Collect Earth Online, Colab, Jupyter notebooks, AppEARS, NASA Worldview, Google Earth Engine, and ArcGIS Online, as well as meeting with your team.

Data products and research outcomes resulting from the Earth System Explorers team will be the basis of one or more co-authored peer-reviewed research papers and posters to be presented at the 2023 American Geophysical Union meeting. Because our anticipated outcome is a professional and peer-reviewed research product, we will preferentially accept those students for whom SEES Earth System Explorers will be their primary research activity over the summer. If you are accepted to an additional internship that you plan to attend, let us know as soon as possible by June 5.

Not sure about going virtual? Check out the SEES Intern blogs from 2022 here:

Meteorites- What can they tell us?
A meteorite is a solid piece of debris from an object, such as a comet, asteroid, or meteoroid, that originates in outer space and survives its passage through the atmosphere to reach the surface of a planet or moon. When the original object enters the atmosphere, various factors such as friction, pressure, and chemical interactions with the atmospheric gases cause it to heat up and radiate energy. It then becomes a meteor and forms a fireball, also known as a shooting star or falling star; astronomers call the brightest examples “bolides”. Once it settles on the larger body’s surface, the meteor becomes a meteorite. Meteorites vary greatly in size. For geologists, a bolide is a meteorite large enough to create an impact crater.

Interns will learn how NASA searches for meteorite samples and curates them. What does the science community hope to discover from meteorites? Interns will investigate OSIRIS-REx and other asteroid missions while: (1) forming a hypothesis for ALH84001 (life/no life)/ (2) designing a full cleanroom processing room for Meteorites, and (3) discovering what resources can be found in Meteorites/Asteroids that will benefit life on Earth.

Urban Heat Island Study – GLOBE Mission EARTH
Did you know that July 2021 was the Earth’s hottest month on record? In the Northern Hemisphere, the land surface temperature (LST) in July was the hottest ever recorded, at 1.54 degrees C (2.77 degrees F) above average! Increases in LST can have negative impacts on wildlife, our land and water resources, and on human health and economic activity. In particular, urban areas are prone to increased LST, due to their extensive use of impermeable surfaces such as asphalt and concrete, and their lack of vegetation. The tendency for these areas to be hotter than their surrounding rural areas is known as the “Urban Heat Island Effect”.

You can study this phenomenon and add to NASA scientists’ knowledge of the topic, from your own backyard! By joining the Urban Heat Island Effect (UHIE) Study Group, you will receive instrumentation to collect data from your immediate environment on Surface Temperature, Air Temperature and Clouds. You will then share this data with the group (and the world) by uploading it to The GLOBE Program’s Visualization System, a cloud-based Geographic Information System (GIS) of citizen science data. The GLOBE Program has a long history of engaging students and citizen scientists in the study of LST in their areas, and you will become part of this worldwide community!

The SEES High School Summer Intern Program is funded through NASA Cooperative Agreement Notice NNH15ZDA004C and is a part of NASA’s Science Activation program. For more information, go to: