Mya Karinchak first visited the Kennedy Space Center when she was in middle school. She entered the center’s planetary theater and although there was only a 15-minute video about NASA, Karinchak left the room completely changed.
“I had tears in my eyes by the end,” Karinchak recalls. “I was just so in awe, and I think I said to my mom, ‘I really want to end up here somehow.'”
That summer, Karinchak’s dream came true. Karinchak, a fourth-year physics student at Northeastern, landed a co-op at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where he worked to predict solar winds and study their effects on Mars.
“I just kept saying, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll end up at NASA,’ not knowing if that would ever happen,” says Karinchak. “It was a dream of mine, honestly not something I thought I would start doing so early in my life.”
Karinchak works on the Heliophysics-Solar Physics team, and her work with a prediction tool called the Wang-Sheeley-Arge model is already making its mark at NASA. The WSA model is able to predict solar wind parameters such as the polarity of the Sun’s interplanetary magnetic field in its inner heliosphere and the speed of the solar wind. Karinchak’s work will help identify the most accurate predictions for these parameters and their impact on the red planet, which can be significant given the conditions around Mars, she says.
“Mars lacks an intrinsic global magnetic field, so the solar wind shapes the magnetosphere differently each time it hits Mars,” says Karinchak. “Every time something sweeps past the magnetosphere of Mars, it’s constantly changing around it.”
By comparing solar wind polarity and velocity predictions to those observed by spacecraft on Mars, NASA can also gain new insights into Mars. This information becomes even more relevant as NASA advances plans to send astronauts to Mars.
“Basically, when we have these predictions, they provide more background information about what’s happening around Mars,” says Karinchak. “Solar winds affecting the magnetosphere of Mars can lead to things like the escape of planetary ions, leading to erosion of the Martian atmosphere. So this is an application to find more context around the solar winds and get more accurate forecasts.”
Karinchak has three months left at her co-op but already feels she has gained a lot from the experience. Her passion for science was particularly validated by working with NASA’s talented scientists.
“The inspiring passion and affinity of people who work at NASA just for science or whatever they’re working on, whatever their specific project is — it’s just something that brings everyone together,” says Karinchak.
Her colleagues at NASA have also helped her see her future in a new way. Karinchak is entering her final year of undergraduate studies at Northeastern – and is on her way to the PlusOne graduate program in mechanical engineering. The future is upon us, but Karinchak feels her experience at NASA has helped her learn that the path to success is anything but linear.
“I feel it’s always encouraging to hear from PhD students. Scientists at NASA who have researched for years and have relevant experience that “I didn’t have a linear path. Discover your interests. There are always many ways things can go and you can’t predict that.’” says Karinchak.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on my path. I just want to see where things take me. I want to stay true to my passion and that can be groundbreaking.”
For media inquiriesplease contact Marirose Sartoretto at [email protected] or 617-373-5718.