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Noha Sahnoune reaches for the stars

December 13, 2013

Noha Sahnoune is a Pathways Intern in the Chief Financial Officer’s Property Accounting Branch at Johnson Space Center. She is also a student at the University of Houston studying accounting.
Sahnoune is an avid blogger who enjoys writing about her experiences and perspectives. She wrote the following feature about her experience at NASA thus far. She says “Working at NASA has been out of this world and it’s given me a lot of insight into not only how JSC works as a whole, but the people who make it happen.”
I grew up in the Clear Lake area, going through elementary, middle and high school with NASA just a few blocks down the road. Naturally, space became a passion, and for years our guest visits were always by some kid’s mother or father who happened to be an astronaut, or by a group of people who worked in different sectors of the agency. Meeting astronauts and hearing crazy space facts throughout elementary school holds some of my fondest recollections of the agency, but my true love for NASA came in the 5th grade.
One of my earliest and most significant memories of NASA was watching STS-107, Space Shuttle Columbia, launch on Jan. 16, 2003. Every student, teacher and faculty at my elementary school crowded into the auditorium to watch the launch on TV. The father of a boy in my grade was on that shuttle, and the research that was to be performed on that flight was to be phenomenal. It was truly exciting to know that people so close to us, so close in our community, were being sent up to see what they could do to literally change the world.
To this day, to think about what must’ve ran through my 5th grade mind and the fact that I couldn’t comprehend the gravity of what had occurred … still chills me. On Columbia’s flight home, in early February of 2003, the shuttle disintegrated as it flew over Texas, leaving no survivors in a tragedy that shocked all in Clear Lake and the nation. The city commemorated the 10th anniversary of the loss of the crew of Columbia this past February—a crew that remains, in my eyes, forever in the stars. Their work and their lives inspired me to aim toward something farther than what I could see—something more than what I thought I could achieve. The fact that this crew, and everyone at NASA and in Clear Lake believed so deeply in venturing far into the unknown, spurred a love in me to aim for something I didn’t always have to have certainty in.
Through college, I knew I wanted to be at NASA, but I didn’t think it’d ever work. I was an accounting major, a creative writing fanatic, and there was no way I’d be able to mesh that into something marketable to one of the most technologically advanced places in the world: Mission Control Center, Houston. Can’t tell you how, or why, but somehow it worked. When I was called and told that I was chosen to co-op at the NASA Johnson Space Center, three things ran through my mind: that it was a joke; that they got the wrong person; or that a little dream I dreamt as a scrawny, confused and utterly aimless 5th grade kid was finally coming to light.
It’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life—from meeting Apollo 13 Flight Director Gene Kranz, to the chief scientist of the International Space Station, to sitting in on an astronaut selection presentation and constantly being surrounded by incredibly intelligent, dedicated and motivated people who all shape their lives around looking beyond the stars. Being here with other co-ops who found their own paths to NASA has been an honor, and every day has been more incredible than the last.
I spoke with someone who works in Mission Operations several weeks ago, and this person said something that resonated deeply with me. I figure that if I ever had the chance to share this with anyone, that I would. The advice in itself hits me as priceless, and defines my journey from mere business student to NASA.
He said that when things go bad, it’s how you handle the situation that matters. It’s the only way one can really get ahead. Everyone works hard, and everyone is good at their job. But the best people always show themselves when something goes wrong because they’re able to present that strength in a time when no one else can.
Ready yourself, he said, and always stay on top of your game. Be mentally prepared for the worst—that’s what Mission Operations is. It’s preparing for the worst possible scenario because if things get bad, that’s when it matters to know what you know. You have to know how to work when it’s all falling down around you.
If you truly believe that you’ll be successful, you will be. With the right mindset, the right intentions and the right goals, the world is yours. If you think that you’ll fail—you will. Life has nothing to do with accolades or distinctions or recognition or money, and any aim to achieve mere praise or medals or trophies will always leave you empty-handed. People at NASA work there because they believe in a mission. Everything material falls to the wayside as one takes in the understanding that the work that can be done, can be done to better the world for everyone.
To end, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in these past weeks has been from the absolute selflessness and dedication that I’ve seen from every JSC team member employee I’ve met on the grounds. When you work for something bigger than yourself—regardless of what it is, or who it is, or why it may be—you begin a trail of light so that others may follow your path, and success can move forward to many.
That success, whether it be in medicine, in business, in space—it is all greatness that contributes to the benefit of all mankind, and it is all possible to achieve.
Ad astra.