NASA puts Wayne State intern to work on Mars exploration

Robotic and human exploration of Mars is an objective NASA hopes to achieve within the next 15 to 20 years. The potential for scientific discovery in space is limitless, which is why people like Brian Atiyeh have a keen interest in answering many of the mysteries in our universe.  

“I've always been into sci-fi and space exploration, so working at NASA was one of my biggest goals,” said Atiyeh, a computer science student in the Wayne State University College of Engineering. Atiyeh achieved his goal this past summer when he was hired by NASA as an intern to work on mission control software called Exploration Ground Data Systems (xGDS). He explained the software as a series of web tools built to support missions for field geology and extra-vehicular activities for future lunar and Mars missions. 

The program creates a centralized location for storing images and maps, planning astronauts' paths, and live-streaming video and geolocation data of astronauts on missions. xGDS will be used this November in a simulated Mars mission in Hawaii. 

Atiyeh contributes his success to his work both in and out of the classroom. Algorithms and Data Structures and Algorithm Design and Analysis were the classes he felt were the most beneficial. 

“These courses are absolutely vital to software engineering interviews. Without that strong basis in algorithms, it is very difficult to pass whiteboard coding interviews,” said Atiyeh, who added that projects outside of class — including developing his own website to showcase his work — made him stand out during the interviewing process. 

Atiyeh said his time at NASA taught him about web development and working on large-scale projects. But the best part was the opportunity to work with hundreds of other NASA interns and moving to Mountain View, California.  

Having returned to Detroit, Atiyeh’s sights are now on tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. More importantly, he wants to “create software that millions of other people can use and appreciate every day.”