An Out-of-This-World Internship
By Emily Gabaldon
Northrop Grumman communications interns Caroline and Nicole had a powerful internship experience that shook them to their core — literally — taking them from their daily tasks of storytelling to witnessing the world’s largest and most powerful solid rocket booster test.
The two had the opportunity to attend the ground test of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) solid rocket motor. The five-segment booster is one of two that provide the majority of the thrust for SLS to leap off this planet on its journey to the moon. The boosters are an integral part of NASA’s Artemis program.
“As an intern, I never thought I would get the chance to experience something like this,” said Nicole. “I am lucky to be part of such an amazing company that allows me to grow beyond the workplace.”
Situated about 40 miles from any major city — past cows, horses and fields — Promontory, Utah, is the perfect remote location to live fire test rocket motors without disturbing too many neighbors. Upon arrival, the interns got a rare look inside the manufacturing facilities, learning how solid rocket motors are built, integrated and tested, including viewing a 40-foot-deep casting pit and SLS booster parts for future missions.
“As an intern, I never thought I would get the chance to experience something like this. I am lucky to be part of such an amazing company that allows me to grow beyond the workplace.”
— Nicole, Communications Intern
“The Promontory manufacturing facilities were massive and unlike anything I have ever seen before,” said Caroline. “It’s one thing to think the work we do is amazing but seeing the manufacturing work first-hand and the employees behind making it possible really puts the gravity of our work into perspective. Not only was it interesting to meet employees from a different location and learn about their backgrounds, but it allowed me to connect the dots about what we do as a company.”
Pre-Launch: An Exclusive, Close-up View
Ready to take on the day with a bright and early arrival in Promontory, Nicole and Caroline had the unique opportunity to participate in an escorted drive up the mountain to view the T-97 test site where the Flight Support Booster-2 test would be conducted later that day.
“It was unbelievable,” said Nicole. “I didn’t realize how huge the solid rocket motor was and feel so honored to have had this opportunity, one most people don’t get the chance to experience.”
Northrop Grumman communicator Kendra, who escorted the interns to the test site, encouraged them to seize this rare moment.
“This is a view many people don’t get. You are standing as close to the rocket booster as you possibly can,” said Kendra. “It stands taller than the Statue of Liberty, weighs 1.6 million pounds producing 3.6 million pounds of thrust, and provides over 75% of the thrust to the SLS — the most powerful rocket NASA has ever created.”
Next, the interns headed to another exclusive location — the T-1 viewing site, which is the closest and best view within a safe distance to experience a test.
Gearing Up for the Test
Now, the real work began: at the viewing site, Caroline and Nicole set up a giveaway table with Northrop Grumman, NASA and Artemis mission patches, hats, stickers, informational materials, pins and more. Prior to the test, the interns greeted hundreds of eager employees, guests, media and even astronauts who stopped by the table to grab some swag, all ready to witness an amazing moment in history.
“The environment definitely set the scene of excitement because everyone I met shared how exhilarating a static fire test is with all of the hard work coming to fruition,” said Nicole, whose favorite moment of the day was meeting the astronauts. “Not many people can say they got to speak with someone who shared how small the Earth really is while on the International Space Station.”
Test Time: Go for Static Fire
When it was time for the test, Caroline and Nicole found an open spot and waited with great anticipation.
Unlike a rocket launch, the motor is instrumented and affixed in a horizontal position in a test stand. Upon ignition, the SLS booster is fired for approximately two minutes with the same amount of power it would output during launch. This means anyone watching a static fire gets to experience a full duration burn, compared to only for a few seconds one experiences as a rocket ascends into space.
“The countdown began… three… two… and as launch control made it to ‘one’, it was dead silent for an instant,” said Nicole. “Then, a moment later, the booster ignited with a booming sound where you could feel the vibrations throughout your entire body and see the bright flames.”
As the flames poured out of the back of the motor, Caroline and Nicole soaked in every second.
“As the booster ignited you were able to see it first, then hear it, and then feel it,” said Caroline. “I was speechless.”
As the day and trip came to an end, Caroline and Nicole strolled through Promontory’s iconic Rocket Garden and reflected on their internship experience.
“This was an experience I will never forget,” said Nicole. “I still can’t believe I saw something that holds such great importance with my own eyes. Now the only thing left to do is to see the motor come to life with the full Artemis I mission launch to space!”
“I was able to meet some amazing people and learn an immense amount about Northrop Grumman,” said Caroline. “This trip truly showed me the importance of our work and instilled great excitement for the future.”
Witnessing this static fire for NASA’s Artemis missions solidified that they had landed the coolest internship experience on the planet.
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