Marley Albright ’23 will take her college career to new heights this fall through the NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities (NSTGRO) award. She is one of approximately 60 U.S. college students who have been selected for this honor, which covers the tuition and fees for a graduate-level program and includes a fellowship at a NASA facility.

The NSTGRO is a highly competitive award given to students with the potential to support NASA’s goal of developing new technologies to further the nation’s science, space exploration and economic future. Students who are selected are paired with a NASA scientist or engineer who mentors them as they complete a research project. Albright says she is honored to be selected for this opportunity and is thankful for the people at UCF who helped her attain it.

“I am grateful to my faculty advisor, Dr. Subith Vasu, for the opportunity to work on research as an undergraduate student in his lab,” Albright says. “I am also thankful for the many postdoctoral researchers and graduate students who have mentored me over the past three years.”

As a NSTGRO fellow, Albright will put her research experience to good use as she develops chemical models of thruster plumes for moon and Mars landers. The goal is to find less-toxic alternatives to hydrazine, the propellant most commonly used for landing applications.

While Albright completes her project, she’ll continue her education at UCF in the mechanical engineering doctoral program. After graduation, she plans to start a career in the aerospace industry, developing new technologies that will make space exploration safer and more cost-effective and efficient. But growing up, she never thought this career path was within her reach — until a high school teacher changed her perspective.

“I learned that success in an engineering career depends on developing a solid work ethic and being resilient amid technical challenges,” Albright says. “This new outlook inspired me to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering and follow my passion for space exploration.”

During a tour of UCF, Albright says she was inspired by the students working in the machine shop and the Texas Instruments Innovation Lab and couldn’t wait to get involved. She enrolled at UCF for her undergraduate degree, worked on several research projects in the Vasu Lab and graduated with her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering earlier this year.

As a student, she never hesitated to get involved and took advantage of UCF’s resources, including the Burnett Honors College Research Match Week and the Office of Undergraduate Research Summer Research Fellowship. Those resources paid off as Albright was also offered the 2023 National Defense Science and Engineering Fellowship, although she ultimately chose to take the NASA NSTGRO award.

“It is a dream come true for me to collaborate with NASA to develop new propulsion technology,” Albright says. “I hypothesize that the research will help make future missions to the moon and Mars more efficient and safer.”