Eyeing the Stars:

Benton alum to intern at NASA this spring

This article was published January 15, 2018 at 9:31 a.m. 

 Luke Vincent NASA Internship

The dream of one day visiting Mars has become that much closer for Luke Vincent.

“I joke about it sometimes, and I can see [my mom] almost cry,” Vincent said. “She is a little nervous that I might actually go.”

Vincent, a 2014 Benton High School graduate and an electrical engineering major at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, was hired to work for NASA in Cape Canaveral, Florida, as an intern for the spring semester.

“Space exploration has always been an interest [of mine],” Vincent said, “but never did I think it was a possibility for me to work for NASA.

“I always keep up with space-related news, but it wasn’t until my co-op (or internship) with LyondellBasell that I realized I need to have a job that is super motivating for me.

“I couldn’t think of anything more motivating than NASA’s plan to [explore] Mars.”

Vincent applied for the NASA internship through the company’s website.

“Within two weeks of [applying], I heard back,” Vincent said. “Two weeks after my initial phone interview, I received the offer. It was really fast.”

Grace Johnson, the deputy chief of education and acting internship lead for NASA, said NASA received thousands of applications, and it is a competitive process.

“Overall, I was really surprised,” Vincent said. “I wasn’t expecting anything from it. It was my dream to work for NASA, for sure.”

He said one of the things that may have given him the edge was his relationship with Alan Mantooth, a distinguished professor in the department of electrical engineering at the U of A.

“I feel like he will have a great experience,” Mantooth said. “For someone like Luke, the world is his oyster. He can do so many things in NASA or the commercial sector.

“He has his choice of so many great jobs.”

Vincent said he did research under Mantooth as a freshman, this past summer and the past semester. Vincent said part of that research included a wireless-communication system and synchrophasor applications.

“It is a synchronized relay that measures current and phase,” Vincent explained. “It uses a GPS satellite clock to stay synchronized.”

His internship with NASA will begin Tuesday.

“I talked to many of my professors and asked them if it was worth extending my graduation another year, and many of them said I needed to take it,” Vincent said.

Vincent is in his fourth year but has at least two more years of school because many of his required classes are available only during certain semesters.

“The way our school is structured, we only offer certain classes in the fall and certain classes in the spring,” Vincent said. “If you miss out, then you are delayed a whole year.

“But to work at NASA, I definitely think it is worth it. I hate it but love it at the same time.”

Vincent lives in Benton with his parents, Allen and Donna Vincent, and older brother, Jake Vincent, who was born with cerebral palsy.

“I would say he has been a huge motivator in my life,” Luke Vincent said of his brother, “and my parents couldn’t be more proud of me.

“My mom has posted a lot about it on Facebook, and she is really proud. They have been nothing but supportive of anything that I have decided to do.”

This will mark Vincent’s third internship. In addition to LyondellBasell in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Vincent interned with Encore Electric in Dallas. Since it will take him another two years to graduate, Vincent said he plans to double major in computer science.

“I have a minor right now in computer science,” he said, “but I think I can make it a major in the extra time.”

Vincent said he has always been interested in electricity, but the main reason he got into engineering in the first place is his aptitude for math.

“I knew engineering was math-heavy,” Vincent said. “I think it is important to know that you are good at something if you are going to do it for the rest of your life.”

Vincent said the project he will be working on is a new rover that NASA has developed as a resource prospector.

“It is scheduled to go to the moon in 2020,” he said. “What is significant about that is it will be a mining expedition sent out to space and will mine the moon for water.

“It will siphon out the oxygen and hydrogen and fuse it together to make water.”

Vincent said his goal is to write scripts that will create reports from the design program used to develop the rover. He will also write scripts that will edit that program.

“With the ability to harvest water out of the polar region, it will allow us to do three things,” said Emilio Valencia, the lead system engineer and mentor for Vincent at NASA. “One, it will provide life support for our astronauts; two, we can split it into hydrogen and oxygen and use that as rocket propellant and generate electricity; and three, have the principal resources that you can use for living outside of the Earth’s environment.”

Vincent said it is important for humans to get their own water source wherever they are because sending water in a shuttle is expensive.

“The water that we send on a space ship weighs a lot,” Vincent said. “For every pound that you send on a spaceship, it costs [about $10,000] to send it up to orbit.

“That’s what NASA’s plan is — to see if we can produce our own water and be independent from Earth.”

Vincent said a similar process will also be used to build rocket propellant so “we’d basically have a gas station on the moon.”

“The internship lasts a semester, but I have a very likely opportunity for it to go all year, which is what I am going to try to do so I don’t waste my time at school,” he said.

Vincent will join 41 other interns at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“We saw that Luke was very well-rounded,” Valencia said. “He had a good GPA and had the two majors we were looking for in electrical engineering and computer science.

“He has had internships before, and that really gave us a good sense that he produces, and he is a good worker. He has some good experience

under his belt, even though he is a junior in college.”

Vincent said he is not sure if the internship will lead to a full-time job with NASA, but he said, “I am going to work so hard that they have to hire me.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

Original feature on Arkansas Online may be viewed HERE