Senior develops out-of-this-world rocket with NASA


While other students worked in offices for their summer internships, senior Benton Patterson was helping develop a rocket engine at NASA.

Patterson, who studies aerospace and mechanical engineering, worked side-by-side with professionals on NASA’s Space Launch System, an initiative that hopes to expand space exploration.  The engine that he worked on is going to be the biggest engine NASA has ever tested.

Before Patterson could get there, he had to apply to many internships. After not hearing back from any in March, he began to feel nervous about his prospects.

“By that point, I was starting to get a little concerned that I wasn’t going to get any internship offers,” he said.

Patterson used the USAJOBS government website to search for all the internships that were related to his major. Under NASA, Patterson applied to intern with the John C. Stennis Space Center.

Patterson always knew he wanted to be an aerospace engineer, and after researching at Florida State University in 2013, he became more interested in propulsion.

“I’ve been interested in doing aerospace engineering pretty much all of college,” he said.

Harry Ryan, lead systems analyst and modeling engineer in the NASA Engineering and Test Directorate at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center, chose Patterson for the internship because of his good grades. He also became Patterson’s mentor in the program.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of high qualified students apply,” Ryan said. “It’s very difficult to choose. An outstanding academic record is the first level I used. Then it’s a balance between the recommendation letters and the student.”

For students preparing to apply for internships, Ryan says in addition to decent grades it’s important to have good communication skills and to be ready for anything the internship may throw at you.

Patterson also stressed being a self-sufficient go-getter. He said he spent a lot of time over the summer learning different programs outside of his internship in order to keep up with the work and be able to do more challenging jobs.

“I did anything my mentor needed me to do,” Patterson said. “My dad is a commercial real estate agent. My mom is a special education teacher. My parents haven’t been able to help me with school since, like, sixth grade.”

Ryan praised Patterson’s work ethic.

“He was very able to work on a variety of projects,” Ryan said of Patterson’s work ethic. “His communication skills in terms of both writing and oral communication and presentation were outstanding as well.”

Patterson’s projects included testing different high pressure systems of the engine with NASA’s system analysis team.

“Most of what I worked on was testing invalidation of high pressured gas systems – nitrogen, fuels, liquid oxygen and hydrogen and helium,” Patterson said.

After graduation, Patterson is considering working for NASA, but wants to keep his options open. He also wants to work with SpaceX, a space transport services company that is finding ways to colonize Mars.