Wall interns with NASA scientists, aims to work on Mars missions

Phoebe Wall has always had a passion for science, starting with an interest in marine biology, paleontology and most recently, in space.

The Overlake School junior recently got back from her July internship in Texas, where she worked with NASA scientists to design a prototype habitat structure for future manned Mars missions.

“It was incredibly empowering,” Wall said. “It’s definitely made me want to work on Mars missions when I grow up.”

The road to the internship was a long one as Wall took junior-level classes last year as a sophomore through the Washington Aerospace Scholarship program and did extensive studying on satellites and Mars mission vision documents from NASA.

But she was eventually selected to take part in the internship along with students from across the country. More than 600 students applied for the 40 internship positions.

At the program, they were split into groups, with six in Wall’s. They started out taking classes in the morning and designing a martian habitat in the afternoons, but by the second week all their energy was being poured into simulating the habitat.

The structure they came up with included three modules that could fit six people. It was split up into living, life support and science and medical units.

One of the biggest time draws, though, was calculating the costs of the materials they would need. While some items, like first aid kits, are easily priced, more complex materials required in-depth calculations on cost and how expensive it would be to get it the nearly 40 million miles to Mars.

“There’s only so much that you can launch from earth,” Wall said.

The external structures were the hardest part to design since they had to be pressurized, but since the atmospheric pressure on Mars is far less than on Earth, the shelter shells have to be inflated but also strong enough to hold in a martian environment.

For the sleeping quarters, they designed a shelter with a flat ceiling so they could pile radiation-resistant materials on top.

After high school, Wall wants to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering and help propel humanity into the cosmos.

And pushing boundaries is what people do, Wall said.

“Just by nature, we’re meant to explore new places, and by living off the planet, it gives us kind of security for our species,” she said.

Pushes into space also yield more technology for people back on Earth, Wall said.

Ultimately, she said she wants to encourage students who are interested in the program or space exploration to check it out and get involved.

“I’m incredibly grateful to have been accepted into this internship,” she said.

And if a national commitment to NASA remains stable, the agency is working on developing capabilities to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars within 15 years after that, according to its website.

The agency hopes to one day allow humans to live and work on Mars, and also return from the red planet.