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Turlock native interns at NASA flight research center
NASA pic
Benjamin Martins, an undergraduate student from Turlock, examines the parts of a third model unmanned aerial vehicle he helped construct during his Aeronautics Academy Internship in the Model Lab at NASAs Dryden Flight Research Center. - photo by TOM TSCHIDA / NASA

In his youth, Benjamin Martins of Turlock had always been fascinated with aircraft and how they function, and he knew he wanted to be an engineer.

Martins' fascination led him to study aerospace engineering at University of California, San Diego, and most recently, to a summer internship at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California.

During a 13-week internship that extended from June through August, Martins worked with a team of undergraduate and graduate interns in a fiber optics laboratory under the guidance of their mentor, NASA Dryden Director of Education Lance Richards. 

“I enjoyed this opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology,” said Martins. “NASA has a long history of pushing the boundaries of what is possible. As an engineer, working in an environment where you are encouraged to think outside the box and push the limits is very appealing.”

Martins’ project goal was to instrument a segmented trailing edge section and fiber optic strain sensing system on the wing of an unmanned aerial vehicle. A segmented trailing edge — different from current wing designs that use hinged surfaces called flaps to reduce the speed of an aircraft and assist in landing — has the potential to optimize flight performance.

“The objective is to use real-time strain and displacement data from the FOSS system to control the segmented control surfaces,” said Martins. “We hypothesize that by measuring the in-flight data, we will be able to configure these segmented surfaces into an optimized pattern for a given flight condition in real-time. This will ultimately lead to more aerodynamically and structurally efficient planes in the future.”

Martins’ first day at Dryden was exceptionally memorable because he saw the Dream Chaser, a spacecraft designed to take astronauts to and from the international Space Station in NASA’s post-shuttle era. The Dream Chaser, which resembles a miniature space shuttle, is a crewed vertical-takeoff, horizontal-landing lifting body being developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation's Space Systems division.

“Aside from seeing all of the NASA buildings over the horizon for the first time,” Martins said, “the Dream Chaser has probably been the thing I was most excited to see.”

Now that his time at NASA is over, Martins plans on continuing work with aerospace technology. After his master's degree is completed, he intends to pursue a doctorate in aerospace engineering.