Working at NASA: A dream come true for this Northeastern student

Mya Karinchak visited the Kennedy Space Center for the first time when she was in middle school. She entered the center’s planetary theater and although it only played a 15-minute video about NASA, Karinchak walked out completely changed.

“By the end of it I had tears in my eyes,” Karinchak recalls. “I was just so in awe, and I think I told my mom, ‘I really want to end up here somehow.'”

This summer, Karinchak’s dream came true. A fourth-year physics student at Northeastern, Karinchak landed a co-op at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, working to predict solar winds and explore their impact on Mars.

“I’ve just always said, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll end up at NASA,’ not knowing if that would ever happen,” Karinchak says. “It was a dream of mine, not something I thought I would get into this early in my life, honestly.”

Karinchak works on the heliophysics-solar physics-team, and her work with a predictive tool called the Wang-Sheeley-Arge model is already leaving a mark on NASA. The WSA model is able to predict solar wind parameters, such as the polarity of the sun’s interplanetary magnetic field in its inner heliosphere and the velocity of solar wind. Karinchak’s work will help determine the most accurate predictions for these parameters and their impacts on the red planet, which can be significant due to the conditions around Mars, she says.

“Mars lacks an intrinsic global magnetic field, so any time solar wind comes to Mars it’s shaping the magnetosphere differently,” Karinchak says. “Every time something brushes past the Martian magnetosphere, it is constantly changing around that.”

By comparing solar wind polarity and velocity predictions with those observed at Martian spacecraft, NASA can also gain new insights into Mars. That information becomes even more relevant as NASA moves forward with plans to send astronauts to Mars.