With data from NASA satellites and guidance from some of the top minds in space exploration, Vibhor Srivastava will explore Earth from above — all without leaving the Lone Star State.
Before he begins his senior year at A&M Consolidated High School, Srivastava will spend two weeks of his summer at the University of Texas’ Center for Space Research as part of the STEM Enhancement in Earth Science (SEES) internship program. A collaboration between NASA, UT and the Texas Space Grant Consortium, the program received nearly 600 applications from students across the country this year.
One of just 54 who made the cut, Srivastava received the good news while school was still in session. Looking through his email during a free moment in math class, he read the words he had been hoping for.
“I scrolled down to a bold ‘you are accepted’ and I just banged the table and everybody looked at me,” Srivastava said. “It was pretty funny. I was just really excited, because it’s a good program. I can learn a lot.”
When they come together in Austin next month, Srivastava and his fellow interns will conduct research, tour facilities and work alongside NASA scientists and engineers. But even before they make the trip, the work has already begun. Srivastava has been making his way through online learning modules meant to sharpen the interns’ skills so they can hit the ground running with their project teams.
As part of the Earth from Space Aerospace Engineering team, Srivastava said satellites will help him investigate some of the many forces shaping the planet.
“Basically, we’ll take live data from satellites and analyze it and just see what we can learn and how we can apply it,” Srivastava said. “For example, we can look at thermal data to look at the effects of global warming and how melting at the ice caps can impact the Caribbean.”
As he looks forward to all that the program will bring, Srivastava said it’s easy to see that his father, Aashish, his mother, Parul, and his 8-year-old sister, Amishi, are all proud.
Parul Srivastava — a pre-K teacher in College Station — said her son’s interest in math and science was apparent at an early age, though he has also excelled in a variety of other subjects.
“Every grade he was so good,” Parul Srivastava said. “And he still makes me proud, any little thing he does. But this is a huge thing, so this time I’m very, very, very proud of him.”
His prowess in the classroom does not go unnoticed by his peers and teachers either, said Michelle Jedlicka, an advanced placement physics teacher at A&M Consolidated.
“He is very dedicated to his work,” Jedlicka said. “He is always willing to help his fellow students when they are struggling.”
Advanced placement chemistry teacher John Tollett wrote Srivastava a letter of recommendation for the program and said he wasn’t surprised to hear he had been selected. Behind his student’s quiet exterior lies a powerful mind with a sharp sense of humor and a true passion for science, Tollett said.
“He’s fantastic,” Tollett said. “If you spend some time with him, if you read any of his work, you understand what caliber student he is, what kind of learner he is.”
Living in College Station has provided plenty of opportunities to take learning to the next level, Srivastava said. Since his family moved to town five years ago, he has attended many of Texas A&M University’s public math and science events.
He has also mentored other local students as a counselor for A&M’s Summer Educational Enrichment in Math program and as an organizer for the TAMU Math Circle. Last summer, he worked on a robotic arm as part of an internship with Gregory Huff, an associate professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering.
Aashish Srivastava — a senior research scientist in A&M’s department of biochemistry — said that while the SEES program will present plenty of opportunities for his son to hone his skills, it will also offer a rare chance to meet other gifted students from around the country.
“I think that interaction — those friendships that he will develop — will also be things to cherish,” Aashish Srivastava said.
In a video Srivastava created as part of his application, he describes the moment his interest in space took flight — a visit to the NASA Museum in Houston shortly after he moved to Texas. And while he’s not entirely sure where he wants to end up in the future, he said the SEES program is already opening his mind to the world of possibilities ahead.
“It blew my mind that our technology has reached the point where we can send satellites past even our own solar system,” he said in the video. “The sheer magnitude of these missions inspired me to one day be a part of NASA’s next big project.”