Diving for the Stars

Aerospace Engineering student Marielle Lenehan capitalized on her SCUBA diving experience for an opportunity of a lifetime.

Aerospace Engineering major Marielle Lenehan. (Photo: Embry-Riddle/Joseph Harrison)
Aerospace Engineering major Marielle Lenehan. (Photo: Embry-Riddle/Joseph Harrison)

Aspiring rocket scientist Marielle Lenehan (’23) finds herself just as fascinated by what can be found beyond the stars as what lies beneath the surface of the ocean.

When it came to choosing a school where she could pursue both her passions, Embry-Riddle’s proximity to the ocean and Space Coast made it the perfect fit.

“There's nothing more encouraging than to look out of your dorm window to see a rocket launch into the sky – a steady reminder of what you might be working on in the future!” she said.

In 2021, Lenehan was accepted to NASA Johnson Space Center’s Pathways Internship Program, which provides students with opportunities to work at various branches in preparation for a career with NASA after graduation.

With multiple SCUBA diving certifications under her belt and a keen interest in human space studies, it’s no surprise she ended up at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), an astronaut training facility that houses the agency’s neutral buoyancy pool.

“The underwater environment serves as one of the best microgravity analogs out there, and divers face many of the same restrictions as an astronaut during extravehicular activities,” she said.

Successful completion of rigorous medical, swimming and diving evaluations cleared Lenehan for what would be her most impactful experience yet – scuba diving in the NBL and exploring its full-scale model of the ISS.

She even played a crucial role in the setup of several underwater lunar lighting tests designed to replicate shadows found in the polar regions of the moon where the Artemis missions are set to land. When she wasn’t in the water, Lenehan also assisted with the design and structural analysis of a new platform to increase the fidelity of water survival training for astronauts.

“The fact that I worked at the NBL during my first co-op rotation is really special, especially when you consider that applying to the branch is highly competitive,” she said.

Outside of her studies, Lenehan keeps busy as a principal investigator for a research project in the Spacesuit Utilization of Innovative Technology (S.U.I.T.) Lab. She also served as president of the university’s marine conservation diving club for three years.

The Aerospace Engineering program has given her the knowledge and hands-on experience to dive into the internship – and wherever the aerospace industry takes her next – with confidence.

“People at Riddle really do want you to succeed and are always there for you if you need them,” Lenehan said. “That kind of support was integral and gave me the motivation to not only do well in my classes, but to take my shot and apply for experiences like the Pathways program.”