Launching a Career with NASA
He hasn't graduated yet, but when he does, University of the Pacific senior Todd Heino will work in the spacecraft software engineering branch at NASA, thanks to the career launch pad that Pacific's co-op program provided.
Now in the final third of his year-long internship at NASA, Heino has gained valuable experience in robotics and software engineering. During the first segment of the internship - called a "tour" - he worked on the humanoid Robonaut 2, the first robot built to work side-by-side with astronauts on the International Space Station. Heino built and tested the electronics for the robot's hands and forearms.
"I tested and characterized motors and sensors, physically soldered and built connectors, printed circuit boards and designed my own printed circuit boards," he says.
He also wrote high level programming code for a graphics user interface for a testbed that the team was developing.
During his second tour, he developed on-board flight displays for a concept hazard detection system named Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT).
"ALHAT is an auto-lander for terrestrial bodies which allows astronauts to know what's going on with the landing and be able to manually control or adjust the system if necessary," he explains."My work involved developing a two-dimensional graphical display and working with three-dimensional renderings of statistically generated lunar terrain for use in a virtual reality dome."
He also co-authored an academic paper on the development of the system that was recently accepted for publication in the AIAA Big Sky aerospace conference.
Now in his third tour, Heino is in Houston working at the Johnson Space Center developing flight software for the vertical test bed project. He is creating the data storage system for the craft, which involves writing both flight code and working with hardware for the processor box on the craft.
"The co-op program has been one of the best experiences of my life and I definitely encourage other students to apply to NASA," he says.