Summer Student Research Opportunities (SSRO) in Space Science

Sponsored by Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's (GSFC) Space Sciences Directorate
Greenbelt, Maryland

June 9 - August 15, 2003

The Program

A limited number of paid positions are available to undergraduate and graduate students to encourage an interest in physics, solar physics, extraterrestrial physics, astronomy, astrophysics, and computer science/ information technology. Selected students will be teamed with a scientist mentor having parallel scientific interests, to jointly develop and carry out a research-related project at GSFC over the 10-week period.

In addition to the primary research project, participants will be expected to attend scientific colloquia, participate in lunchtime brown bag seminars, and visit other GSFC laboratories. Participants will receive a tour of the Goddard campus conducted by a representative of the GSFC Public Affairs Office. At the conclusion of the 10-week period, participants will present oral and written reports on their projects to their fellow summer students, their mentors, and other members of the Space Sciences Directorate. On a case-by-case basis, participants may be granted incentives to continue collaborative projects during the next academic year.


The Space Science Directorate is comprised of the Laboratories for High Energy Astrophysics, Astronomy and Solar Physics, Extraterrestrial Physics as well as the Space Science Data Operations Office. Scientific research within the laboratories is directed toward both experimental and theoretical activities in the following areas: x-ray, gamma-ray, and cosmic-ray astrophysics; UV/optical astronomy; solar physics; infrared astrophysics; astrochemistry; interplanetary physics; planetary systems; planetary magnetospheres; and, electrodynamics.

A sampling of past and possible future projects includes the following:

  • Cosmic rays: investigating the processes of cosmic ray propagation and acceleration, characterizing the cosmic ray composition and sources.

  • Detectors: development of high-energy resolution calorimeters for x-ray spectroscopy (Constellation-X), and scalable, large area micro-well arrays for all sky monitoring (ISS-Lobster).

  • Galactic binaries: the study of the spectral variation of x-ray bursts.

  • Gamma-ray bursts: using Bayesian analysis algorithms to characterize pulse distributions in gamma-ray burst (GRB) temporal profiles.

  • Ionospheric response: investigation of global ionization, heating, and flow of ionospheric plasma in response to solar and magnetospheric energy inputs, using POLAR/TIDE, FAST, and DMSP spacecraft.

  • Interplanetary gas and dust: exploration using a combination of direct and indirect observations of interstellar atoms and neutralized solar wind ions from the IMAGE/LENA imager, and energetic "pickup" ions in the solar wind from Wind, ACE, and Ulysses.

  • Interstellar matter and molecular clouds: studying the diffuse gamma-ray emission observed by the Energetic Gamma Ray Experiment Telescope (EGRET) to evaluate the coupling of cosmic rays to interstellar gas in the outer Galaxy.

  • Magnetospheric response: the coupling of energy and plasma from the solar wind into magnetospheres, creating space weather, is studied using observations from WIND, POLAR, FAST, and IMAGE missions, in comparison with relevant theories and global simulations.

  • Particle analyzers and imagers: development of innovative particle and plasma velocity analysis and detection systems, including imaging systems for electrons, ions, and neutral atoms.

  • Solar wind acceleration and dynamics: observations from several spacecraft are compared with theories of the solar wind to investigate the processes that heat the corona, accelerate the wind, and influence its properties.

  • Stars: continuous monitoring of the x-ray variations from the extremely massive star Eta Carinae using the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE).

  • Supernovae and supernova remnants: analyzing the x-ray emission from SNR G21.5-0.98 to better understand the x-ray emission from composite type supernova remnants.

  • Black holes: mapping the accretion history of super-massive black holes.

  • Mechanical design and analysis: modifications and additions to existing project instruments.

  • Space data systems: development of autonomous flight and ground systems for command and data handling and flow.

Compensation and Support

Selected students will be placed on USRA's payroll as Student Assistants and compensated at the rate of $10 per hour for undergraduates and $12 per hour for graduate students for 40 hours per week for 10 weeks. USRA will reimburse reasonable roundtrip domestic travel expenses for non-local participants. A variety of local housing arrangements are available and will be funded for program participants only (no family members).

Eligibility and Selection Criteria

The program is open to students enrolled in, or accepted to, accredited U. S. undergraduate and graduate programs in physics, astronomy, astrophysics, engineering, computer science, or related disciplines. Students will be selected based on the following:

  • academic record (official transcripts required)

  • motivation and career interests

  • preparation to contribute toward research in astronomy, astrophysics, solar/magnetospheric physics, and space data and information sciences

  • relevance of career goals and experiences to USRA and GSFC scientists

  • letters of recommendation.

We encourage students at minority, tribal, and community colleges to apply who may have limited on-campus access to specialized faculty and/or resources in the research areas listed above. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply.

Participants MUST commit for the full 10-week period. Due to NASA security regulations, citizens of certain countries may not be eligible for access to the GSFC campus. Non-U. S. citizens should contact the SSRO Program Coordinator to confirm eligibility before applying (

Application Deadline Friday, February 14, 2003 for receipt of all application materials, transcripts, and letters of recommendation.

Application Guidelines

The application form is located at the following URL: On the left sidebar, click on Student Opportunities. The link to the application form is at the bottom of the SSRO program announcement.

Complete the application form and mail it to the address below with a copy of your CV or resume that shows a complete education and employment history. In addition, have an official copy of your transcript and two letters of recommendation sent directly by mail to the same address for receipt by the February 14th deadline.

SSRO Program Coordinator
Universities Space Research Association
7501 Forbes Blvd, Suite 206
Seabrook, MD 20706

A complete application contains the application form, a CV or resume, an official transcript, and two letters of recommendation. Complete applications will receive full consideration.

Questions regarding this program or the application process should be directed to the SSRO Program Coordinator at 301-805-8396 or

Selection Announcements

The number of positions awarded will depend upon funding availability. Applicants selected will be contacted electronically in late March or early April 2003.

Sources of Additional Information

Information on the USRA Cooperative Program in Space Sciences that operates SSRO may be found at

Information on USRA may be found at

Information on the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center may be found at

Information on the NASA Goddard Space Sciences Directorate may be found at