JAVA, Va. — An eastern Pittsylvania County man recently secured a summer internship at NASA.
Patrick Gibson, a Danville Community College student who lives in Java, is not the first person that comes to mind when most hear the title, "NASA intern."
"I accidentally found the internship on Facebook last October and said, well, might as well apply for this," Gibson said. "I doubted it would work out, but it sounded cool."
Gibson's girlfriend was just graduating from Chatham High School when she gave birth to the couple's now 4-year-old daughter. She and Gibson are now married, but with a new baby to take care of, neither pursued a college education directly out of high school.
"Me and my wife last year told each other, 'One of us is starting school,'" Gibson said. "It ended up being me."
Gibson is enrolled in the precision machining program at DCC, where he is in his third semester and is on track to graduate in May 2022. His wife, Lindsey, has since enrolled in the paralegal studies program at American National University in Danville.
"We got a late start, but we're trying to take every opportunity we can to provide for ourselves and for our child," Gibson said. "At this time, that's what's most important."
After applying for the internship last October, Gibson would go on to complete an online course in March where he learned the ins and outs of NASA.
"Unfortunately, because of COVID, it's all virtual," he said.
At the conclusion of the course, he wrote a 10-page essay to throw his hat in the ring for a coveted NASA internship. He was one of less than 10 percent of the thousands of applicants selected for the two-week summer internship that started Monday.
"During the internship, I'll be put with a team of about 10 people," Gibson said. "You get a budget and you can earn money for your project by doing different activities. For example, if we're on Zoom for a day, if I wear DCC colors I might get an extra $10,000 towards the budget."
Gibson and his team will have to decide if they're going to plan to go to the moon or Mars.
"You get to virtually build your aircraft, plan out how you're going to do it, your food, your water, all that," he said. "Everybody has a different role – budget, graphic design, engineering and so on."
At the end of the program, Gibson will present which planet he chose and how he plans to get there. NASA will declare a winner and award a prize.
Gibson is considering a career in the aerospace field in the future, he said.
"Eventually, after school, I want to find somewhere to work in a machine shop." Gibson said. "Project shops work on all sorts of different things. It's a freethinking setting over a factory setting. That’s where I want to end up so I can be creative and work on my own rather than being on an assembly line. Eventually, I would like to go back to school for engineering."
For the past four years, Gibson has worked as an EMT for Regional One and now does patient transport in South Boston. However, EMT work wasn’t paying the bills for his family, which led Gibson to pursue higher education.
"I jumped into it without any knowledge of what it was," Gibson said of the precision machining curriculum at DCC. "It deals with guns, a lot of stuff on ships and aircraft, and I really didn’t know that until after I got into it. That program is part of STEM, and to get into the NASA thing, you had to be in a STEM field."
Gibson, a George Washington High School alum, said he wouldn't have gotten on the career path with NASA without the support of his family.
"I've been telling myself this, really, for the past two years: Anything easy is never worth it," Gibson said. "That really keeps pushing me. I've been living by that. I would say that if you shoot for big things you can do it, if you're from Danville or anywhere else."