WSU student reaches for the stars at NASA internship


Morgan Anderson

Senior aerospace engineering student Lucas Webb speaks with a Sunflower during an interview about his internship with NASA over the summer.

Not many students get a chance to work for NASA before they graduate from college, but Lucas Webb, 21, spent his summer doing just that.

Webb, a senior studying aerospace engineering, spent 10 weeks over break working at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

“It was basically to get college engineering students to get some experience in research and in, like, the job world, and experience NASA,” Webb said.

The program asked a lot of its interns, Webb said, and the internship allowed him to work on projects with real-world applications.

“A lot of internships kind of like walk you through baby steps and baby projects and things like that, but this one actually had you work on meaningful stuff,” Webb said. “I think that was really good, but also challenging because a lot of us have come from programs where we haven’t necessarily gone into that step yet. 

While interning, Webb worked primarily on rotorcraft, which are aircraft like helicopters that use rotors to move up and down mid-flight.

Webb said he looked at stacked, co-rotating rotors on rotorcrafts to see how putting them at different azimuth angles would affect its performance. 

“An azimuth angle is basically the angle between the bottom and the top rotor. Typically, they’re at 90 degrees apart from each other, but we changed them to 45, 30, and 10 (degrees) to see how that would affect them,” Webb said. 

His mentors tested rotors at different angles and collected all the data and then gave it to Webb to analyze and figure out which option was the most efficient. 

Webb said he thinks the work he did this summer will positively impact his academic work at WSU during his senior year.

“I think I learned how to incorporate what I learned over the past three years practically,” he said.

Aside from the knowledge Webb gained at NASA, he said there was another perk to spending the summer in Mountain View, California.

“I think the biggest perk was honestly the weather,” he said. “It was significantly less humid. The last two weeks were like perfect — 75 degrees outside.”

Webb also had the opportunity to march in the San Francisco Pride Parade.

“It was a lot of fun. We had a float and everything,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to go to San Francisco Pride.”

After graduating in May, Webb said he hopes to get a master’s degree in space propulsion and ultimately work for NASA on propulsions or mission design.

For the time being, Webb said he’s focused on his senior design project, which encapsulates everything he’s already learned in his program.

“You actually have to design a plane or a rocket or whatever and then build it, test it and fly it,” he said.

Webb’s team is going to be working on a nationwide NASA student design competition. 

“That’s basically building a rocket, shooting it up around a mile or so, bringing it back down, and then deploying a rotor from it to go collect some kind of sample,” Webb said.  

Usually, there are about 20 people working on each of these designs, but the senior design project at WSU only allows four or five students per team.

When asked if he thought that put WSU teams at a disadvantage, Webb said he was unsure. He said that small as the teams may be, they may be able to devote more time to the project throughout the year.

In addition to the year-long design project, Webb has several other obligations on campus. He’s an honors senator for SGA, a student ambassador, a mentor for First Strong Scholars, and an ambassador for diversity and inclusion.