Working at NASA: A dream come true for this Northeastern student

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.

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“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.

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