ISU student from sea to space, exploring the world

August 29 2008

"People say that if you last 30 days at sea without going insane, well maybe you are a little crazy," said Cassie Gray, a recent graduate of Indiana State University.

This Jasonville native, who completed a bachelor's degree in geology in May, spent the summer exploring the depths and the heights of the known world. She participated in a month-long oceanographic research cruise with Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

"I was able to participate in the cruise because of the research in which I was involved with Dr. Anthony Rathburn's Paleoceanography Research Laboratory in the geology program at ISU," said Gray. "Jared Kluesner, an ISU alumnus who went on to attend Scripps to get his PhD, needed to go on a research cruise to obtain rock samples from the Gulf of California to complete a research project."

Since Gray was a student in the geology department and Kluesner needed the extra help, it seemed more than fitting that Gray tag along for the adventure and experience.

"I worked one shift everyday at night in the Jason Control Van for an entire month," said Gray.

Jason is a remotely-operated vehicle that was sent to the seafloor to collect the rock samples required to complete Kluesner's research. Jason was equipped with several cameras that were fed directly to the control van where all the operations were controlled and where the decisions were made by the chief scientist.

"My duties involved 'data logging,' or taking note of anything important, unusual, and things like that, then recording them to DVDs and duplicating," explained Gray.

Since her shifts were only five and a half hours long, it left a lot of time to enjoy sea life.

"It was really cool to be in the control van every night, seeing things that most people will never see," said Gray. "I got to see all the creatures just chillin' on the seafloor. We had a squid attack our cameras once."

Gray said that she would recommend the experience to anyone.

"There is nothing else like it in the world," she said. "Just make sure to take some medicine for sea sickness."

Gray said the best part of the cruise was being off land for 30 days.

"It was really easy to forget the craziness and problems of the real world. You become more 'in touch' with nature," she said. "There is no way to describe what it was like to see dolphins swimming along beside us, or whales surfacing just beside our ship."

"The biggest learning experience of the cruise was working with others and getting along with them," she said.

After the 30-day cruise was complete and Gray and the other crew members returned to land, she didn't take the summer off. Her second summer plans followed closely upon the cruise after she noticed a flyer in the geology department concerning a research/internship opportunity in planetary geology.

"This is a strong interest of mine, so I decided to apply," she said.

Shortly after applying, Gray received the news that she had been selected to participate in an internship at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

"I would have been a fool to say no," she said.

The lab is the center for space exploration in the U.S. It was there that America's first satellite was created and it is considered the place to be for planetary/space scientists and engineers.

"For eight weeks, I had a typical work schedule, working 40 hours a week," said Gray. "I lived on the Caltech campus and commuted to JPL everyday."

Gray was actively involved in a project which examined geologic processes on Mars. Her part in the project involved examining high-speed videos of the experiments on Mars and collecting the necessary data.

"While my duties were monotonous, it was very exciting to be a part of JPL," said Gray. "If you have interest in space or space exploration, JPL is probably the most exciting place to be."

Along with her everyday duties, Gray was able to attend many talks and presentations on some past and current missions from the very people involved in creating them.

"It was great to be submerged in this high level of scientific endeavors and to be surrounded by the most intelligent, top-notched space scientists and engineers," said Gray. "I was really honored to be a part of it."

Gray said that the most important thing she learned from this experience was simply learning more about the missions and the type of work that goes into them.

"I would definitely recommend this internship to any highly motivated student in science or engineering," said Gray. "I am proof that a student from ISU can do it."

Gray is currently attending graduate school at Louisiana State University, where she plans to obtain a master's degree in geology.

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Writer: Jennifer Spector, Indiana State University, media relations intern, at jspector@mymail.indstate.edu or 812-237-3773

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/360110734_H5Sdi-D.jpg  

Cutline: Cassie Gray, who completed a bachelor's degree in geology in May, spent a month this summer data logging on a research cruise to obtain rock samples from the Gulf of California with Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/360110701_E54Cc-D.jpg  

Cutline: Cassie Gray, who completed a bachelor's degree in geology in May, also interned at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif.

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Story Highlights

Cassie Gray, who completed a bachelor's degree in geology in May, spent the summer exploring the depths and the heights of the known world.

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