Darcy Porter | September 01, 2023

Flying with NASA

Patricia Hutton spent her summer internship collecting data while aboard a NASA aircraft. 

Hutton poses inside a NASA aircraft as part of summer internship program

When Patricia Hutton enrolled at Monroe Community College, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to pursue until she took a course that focused on atmospheric circulations.

“I found meteorology and was like, ‘wow, I actually not only am good at it, but I really like it,’’’ Hutton said. “So, after that I didn’t even apply anywhere else. I went straight to Brockport.”

Since transferring to Brockport as a double major in meteorology and earth sciences, Hutton has continued to excel academically studying what she loves and has found tremendous support within the department.

Patricia Hutton smiles from inside a NASA aircraft during summer internship

“Our meteorology professors, Dr. Casey Griffin and Dr. Scott Rochette, love their jobs so much and they will do anything for you,” Hutton said.

Her professors helped connect her with various summer internship opportunities — “some at colleges across the country, some for private industry, and some with NASA.”

Despite feeling like it was a long shot, Hutton applied for NASA’s Student Airborne Research Program (SARP) – she landed it.

Hutton was accepted to the Airborne Research Program, where she spent eight weeks in California during the summer of 2023 conducting research on the data collected from the program’s flights. As part of the Aerosol Team, a group of six interns tasked with evaluating air quality and urban outputs, Hutton spent seven total hours in-flight in NASA’s DC-8 aircraft.

“I got lucky enough to follow the Mission Scientist during one of the flights. It was very intimidating.”
Patricia Hutton

“I got lucky enough to follow the Mission Scientist during one of the flights. It was very intimidating. She was asking me meteorological information, and was having me help make decisions. I was like ‘who am I to be deciding this for this NASA campaign?’”

As part of her NASA Airborne Internship, Hutton had the opportunity to sit in the cockpit with NASA pilots.

As part of her NASA Airborne Internship, Hutton had the opportunity to sit in the cockpit with NASA pilots.

Students in the NASA Airborne Research Project pose while collecting data at the Salton Sea.

Hutton poses with her research group while collecting data at the Salton Sea.

When she wasn’t assisting the Mission Scientist in the aircraft, she and her team were collecting data from the ground. The data was used to inform their individual research projects at UC Irvine. Hutton’s research focused on the effects of dimethyl sulfide; a compound released from the ocean to the atmosphere. She plans to expand on this research in her last semester at Brockport with the help of Dr. Griffin, ultimately hoping to publish her findings.

“Overall, this program gave me the confidence that I can do anything. I just keep saying it felt like a fever dream — to be on airplanes for NASA or do a post-flight briefing. It was incredible.”