Washington and Lee University School of Law

Washington and Lee University School of Law

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Ground Control to Lindsay Hitz

Lindsay Hitz, a rising 2L from Hershey, PA, is interning with the Office of Chief Counsel (OCC) at NASA Langley Research Center.

Advising rocket scientists and reviewing lunar test simulators are just a few of the fascinating responsibilities held by NASA attorneys. While the day to day activities for members of the Office of Chief Counsel do not always live up to the glamour of these exciting events, I am grateful to have the opportunity to intern for an organization like NASA this summer.

As a Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholar, I work closely with NASA attorneys, and I have the added perk of attending lectures, taking tours, and learning more about NASA's mission and programs.  After about a month of interning, I have been impressed by all of the different ways that attorneys are involved in the day to day operations of NASA. 

The Office of Chief Counsel is divided into three law teams:  the Business Law Team (BLT), the Human Relations Law Team (HRLT), and the Intellectual Property Law Team (IPLT).  So far, I have had the opportunity to work with attorneys from the BLT and the HRLT. 

The HRLT deals mainly with employment law and ethics law.  A few of my experiences have included researching issues for pending employment litigation, reviewing employment case files, and observing ethics advising sessions with NASA scientists.

My most memorable experience so far has been attending an Institutional Review Board (IRB) meeting with an HRLT attorney.  The IRB is responsible for review, approval, and monitoring of any research involving astronauts and other human subjects.  The role of the IRB is to assure that research is conducted in an ethical and safe manner, and all NASA IRB's are required to have at least one attorney for legal expertise.

I accompanied the board to review a recently constructed lunar test simulator.  The quality of the simulator was impressive, and I found it even more interesting to see the role that attorneys can play in assuring that science is safe.  The various safety questions that the members asked were important and issues that I wouldn't automatically consider.

After the meeting, I had the additional opportunity to tour a flight simulator.   We were able to stand in the simulator while researchers conducted a test flight.  It was a fun experience, and I started to better understand why members of the board had asked certain questions about potential problems with dizziness.  I had never experienced that feeling of movement in a stationary object before, but I began to understand how it could be a potential safety issue.  So far, I am enjoying the opportunity to learn more about the law while also experiencing some of the wonderful things that NASA has to offer.

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