Ireland in a lab
Schelin Ireland in her lab station at JPL. (Photo credit: NASA)

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa geology and geophysics student earned an opportunity to work with a team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) building instruments to detect previous life on Mars.

Schelin Ireland, a student in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, spent time last semester working with the Hawaiʻi Space Grant Consortium and was able to use that training to get an internship at JPL. Ireland, who grew up in Kona, was put on the team working with SHERLOC, the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals instrument. A version of SHERLOC will launch for Mars in summer 2020. The device will collect data while attached to a Mars rover.

Ireland jumping in the air
Schelin Ireland jumping at the Mars Rover practice site at JPL.

“(UH Mānoa has) a fantastic program for what I want to study, so it’s really great that I’m able to study over there and have all the opportunities that made it possible for me to get this internship,” Ireland told NASA writers in an interview. “My ultimate career goal is to be a research scientist studying planetary science and to be an astronaut. One thing that inspired me when I was in high school was knowing that I attended the same high school as Hawaiʻi’s first astronaut, Ellison Onizuka. It would be an honor to follow in his footsteps and become Hawaiʻi’s first female astronaut.”

Ireland spent the summer running laboratory versions of SHERLOC and helping see the instrument through practice drills before the device heads to the Red Planet. When the rover lands on Mars, Ireland will know she had a hand in this mission of discovery.

“Being a contributing member to this big mission has proven that the sky is not the limit and to always reach for the stars, since they are calling and we must go,” Ireland said in reference to the JPL phrase, “The stars are calling and we must go.”

The experience was rewarding, adding further inspiration to complete her degree and focus on the future.

“Being here is a unique experience of its own. I haven’t experienced anything like this before, and it is absolutely wonderful. I feel like instead of being a student or some extra labor, I am actually treated as a junior colleague and a research scientist. I’m part of this big scientific team, trying to accomplish something of real significance,” Ireland said.

Read more about Ireland’s internship experience at JPL.

Ireland in front of N A S A sign
Schelin Ireland poses in front of the sign at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.