News | November 04, 2015


NASA intern has her eyes on the skies

4 - minute read

After her first-grade visit to the Kennedy Space Center, Lindsey Carboneau knew what she wanted to be when she grew up: an astronaut.

At age 23, the Fort Myers senior’s goals may be a little more down to Earth but a NASA career could still be in the stars for her. A double major in software engineering and mathematics, Carboneau was one of eight college students in the country selected to participate last spring in intensive team research at NASA’s Aeronautics Academy at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. She was asked to come back as a summer intern at Langley and now works on a project remotely from FGCU as she completes her final year of school.

Lindsey Carboneau has a double major in software engineering and mathematics.
Lindsey Carboneau has a double major in software engineering and mathematics.

Carboneau credits her success in applying to the immersive, multidisciplinary program to research experience she’s gained with faculty at FGCU as well as support from the NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium, for which she serves as an ambassador. The academy also considers academic standing and seeks students with career aspirations in aeronautics.

Her selection reflects well on Carboneau as well as the university, according to Laura Frost, director of FGCU’s Whitaker Center for STEM Education.

“It’s further proof of FGCU’s academic excellence, that we have qualified undergraduates able to secure exclusive opportunities like this,” Frost says.

A transfer student, Carboneau said FGCU’s smaller class sizes and opportunities to do research with faculty appealed to her. She’s working with Professor and Whitaker Eminent Scholar Derek Buzasi on creating a pipeline for data from the Kepler K2 planet-hunting mission.

“It is a challenge because the original mission ended when technical difficulties compromised the quality of the data being collected from the telescope,” she says. “Our pipeline corrects the data so that it can be used by the astrophysics community to study things like the formation of stars and our galaxy, and to search for new planets in other solar systems.”

Carboneau also is leading a group of software engineering students on a project to create an inexpensive and easy-to-program computer system for small-scale satellites. The goal is to make satellite and weather balloon projects simple enough so that even grade-school classes can participate in this area of science, which now is dominated by businesses and universities, she says.

“At my previous school, there were not many opportunities like this,” she says. “When I transferred here, I thought I’d get an associate’s degree and go to UCF. But I got involved in research and clubs, and now I’m glad I didn’t leave. Professors here know who I am. FGCU is one of the best things that’s happened to me.”

Working alongside NASA professionals wasn’t all that different from collaborating with FGCU professors, she says.

“It’s really nice. If you’re interested, they’ll talk to you about what they’re working on – that’s not always the case with internships,” Carboneau says. “They listen to students’ ideas and say, ‘Why don’t we explore this?’ “

Her work has mostly involved writing code and creating simulations for technology developed by NASA to improve air traffic management and airline efficiency — the Flight Adjustment Logging and Communications Network (FALCN), which is part of the Next Generation Air Traffic Management System (NextGen). The technology can optimize flight paths en route based on fuel use, flying time and weather conditions.

“It’s a software tool that allows pilots and dispatchers to communicate effectively with each other on proposed flight-path modifications,” Carboneau explains. “It’s the first to use the Internet to transmit data from the flight deck to the ground and has the capacity to integrate with future NextGen projects in the advancement of the National Airspace System.”

That’s right – pilots would use the same connectivity their passengers have been using to communicate online while airborne. With the rise of drones and — some day — flying cars, the skies will become ever more crowded, underscoring the need for better traffic management and communication.

And who doesn’t want a better flying experience?

“A couple of airlines have already signed on,” says Carboneau, who would like to continue doing aviation and space research after graduation – preferably at NASA. “To know that you can make an impact on people’s lives like that is really exciting. The 5-year-old version of me inside is happy as a kid.”

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