March 28, 2022
By Brittney Esther
NASA scientists are hard at work developing cutting-edge technology that will significantly improve the agency’s communication efforts between Earth and Mars. The project—Integrated Radio & Optical Communications (iROC) 3D Visualization—is described by NASA as a “high-speed beaconless optical communications and proven radio-frequency technology.” It’s heady stuff.
Thankfully, Katie Schaefer ’21 is helping make sense of it all. The Animation alum served as NASA Glenn Research Center’s summer 2021 Virtual Intern during her last semester at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Specifically, she was its Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) intern, which led to work on iROC. Her efforts on the project will aid in educating the public on this machinery and how it functions.
“I just love it so much. This project is probably my favorite out of all the ones I’ve done so far,” says Schaefer. Her work on iROC required a multifaceted understanding in animation, including 2D, 3D, and 3D modeling.
“I’ll be showing the signal from the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite: how we get the information from Mars to the satellite and to Earth,” Schaefer says. “It’ll also hopefully educate people on updates to that satellite. It’s a really fun project.”
Schaefer’s animated video is on NASA’s iROC web page. It shows how the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter operates and moves through space to achieve optical laser communication.
“Even though Katie came to us with an arts background, she tackled the advanced STEM aspects of her design work flawlessly,” says Molly Kearns, NASA Glenn Research Center’s digital media specialist. “Working with Katie felt like working with a seasoned NASA professional—no doubt a nod to the quality of the education she received at the Cleveland Institute of Art. We would love to work with her again in the future.”
During the last five years, several other CIA students have served as NASA SCaN summer interns: Stuart Collins ’18, Hannah Obremski ’19, Sara Horoiwa ’20 and Grace Merry ’20 (twice). This wasn’t Schaefer’s first NASA internship, either. She also was there in spring 2021, working with virtual and augmented reality development and 3D modeling.
“My college education was very helpful in preparing me for my NASA internships. It built my leadership, communication, and of course, artistic skills to a professional level in which I could incorporate and build further upon during my internship,” she says. “It also prepared me for real-world experience by getting student projects from companies and having to create and work closely with them from beginning to end. All of this, as well as the many professional and challenging classes at CIA, prepared me for a NASA internship and to excel within myself and my skills.”
Schaefer credits Animation chair Anthony Scalmato ’07 and fellow faculty members Jeff Simonetta and Hal Lewis with helping gear her portfolio toward what NASA would look for in an intern and preparing her for navigating 3D expectations on a professional level. Combined, the experiences helped set her career path.
“My NASA internships have most definitely had a huge impact on my future career goals/plans,” Schaefer says. “Before I had an internship, I planned to work on projects and subjects very different from what I am pursuing currently. They have completely changed my perspective on what artistic skills can be used for in educational content for well-known administrations such as NASA.”
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