PALMDALE, CA - One young Scotch Plains woman is living her childhood dream this summer, taking to the skies while working at NASA.
Kacie Bumiller, a 2014 Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School graduate and rising senior at the University of South Carolina, is one of just 32 students from across the nation selected to participate in NASA’s Student Airborne Research Program (SARP).
“It has been a non-stop, amazing experience,” Bumiller said. “It's been a dream of mine to see NASA inside, up close. There is so much to learn, and I am going to make the most of my time here. I am so thankful for the opportunity.”
The eight-week program is hosted at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California in conjunction with the University of California Irvine. Students work alongside NASA program managers, scientists and engineers, gathering data to be used in a study examining the effects of drought on vegetation and ocean biology along the California coast.
“I flew in the C-23 Sherpa, collecting whole air samples, as well as measuring levels of ozone, nitric oxide, and greenhouse gasses,” Bumiller said. “It's exciting to get hands-on experience on an airborne lab, even though the plane can get hot and very turbulent.”
The C-23 Sherpa is one of two flying laboratories used in the program. The students then conduct ground experiments in Santa Barbara, Joshua Tree National Park, Sedgwick Reserve and Sequoia National Forest.
After completing data collection, each student develops a research project that will be presented to a panel of NASA experts. Often student projects will then be presented at a national conference.
According to Bumiller’s mother, Christine Bumiller, Kacie’s interest in NASA began long ago.
“Ten years ago, we visited NASA in Florida,” Christine Bumiller said. “Kacie bought a NASA key chain (which she still has) and said, ‘I think it would be cool to work here.’ And now she is!”
The 32 students participating in the program represent 31 universities from 21 different states and were selected from hundreds of applicants based on academic performance, future career plans and their interest in Earth science. Bumiller is studying chemical engineering.
“I am so fortunate for this opportunity to explore the airborne science field and to meet NASA scientists and administrators from around the country,” Bumiller said.