Washington and Lee University School of Law

Washington and Lee University School of Law

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Constitution v. Robots

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

In an attempt to achieve the complete NASA experience, I have been spending the last few weeks trying to soak up as much knowledge as I can about the science, research, and history of NASA. The 40-year anniversary of man landing on the moon presented a wonderful opportunity for my goal.  In honor of the anniversary, the Strategic Relations Office sponsored an advanced screening of "The Wonder of it All," an Apollo documentary. Adding to the excitement, the producer of the film came to NASA Langley to introduce the documentary and answer questions.  The film was fascinating and presented a unique take on the Apollo astronauts by focusing on how the experience of landing on the moon shaped each man's life.
 
Now that I have celebrated an anniversary, toured wind tunnels and lunar simulators, and learned about the practice of law along the way, it is just about time to leave my internship. During my last week, I will be finishing up the final component: a research project and presentation regarding a specific aspect of NASA legal practice. My project examines the evolution of First Amendment protections for government employees. I specifically looked into what effect, if any, the increased use of technological forms of expression, such as blogs, would have on the current standards.  I will be presenting my findings at a poster presentation session next week.
 
The poster presentation session serves as a showcase for all of the student research at NASA Langley, and over 200 interns will present their research at the event. It should be an excellent opportunity for me to learn a little bit about some of the experiments and fascinating research that other students in the hard sciences have been conducting this summer. Maybe, if I'm lucky, I will be able to educate these future scientists and engineers about one small aspect of the law. But I must admit, I'm fairly certain that the Constitution will have a hard time competing with the robots and other gadgets that some of my hard science counterparts will bring to the event.  Regardless of the popularity of my poster, this event is a wonderful way to end the summer and celebrate the work of all of the summer interns.
 
Looking back on my internship, of all of my exciting experiences, the most valuable have been my interactions with the NASA attorneys. The ability to work closely with many of the attorneys and the opportunity to get to know them as professionals and individuals has been invaluable. 

Friday, July 17, 2009

Wanna Feel Gravity? File a GAO Report for NASA

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

Searching through piles of paper, documenting privileged communications, and discerning a logical order for thousands of pages are just a few of the steps required to assemble a report to the GAO. The majority of my time over the past week has been spent assisting attorneys on the BLT with a discovery request for pending procurement litigation. In the process of compiling a record composed of over 20,000 pages, I have been able to learn a lot about the case simply by sifting through the massive amount of documents. Now that the record is physically compiled, the next step will be to assist the attorneys with research necessary to write the agency response brief.

While I admit that placing documents in binders for hours on end is not necessarily a glamorous or intellectually stimulating task, I appreciate being exposed to the process of compiling an agency report. I think that is important to realize all of the work and thought that goes into these seemingly menial tasks in order to have a better understanding of the case as a whole. My internship will end before this case reaches the hearing stage, but I am glad that I had the opportunity to play a role and look forward to checking in with the attorneys this fall to find out the result.

In between sifting through documents, I had the opportunity to take a break to attend the LARSS weekly lecture. This week a former astronaut, Dr. Roger Crouch, spoke about his experiences as a Payload Specialist in space. He gave a very descriptive and honest account of his experiences. From the fear and anxiety that he felt right before lift-off to the way his lungs responded to the pressure of take-off, Dr. Crouch painted a detailed picture of life as an astronaut. I was fascinated to hear about the sometimes difficult transition astronauts experienced upon returning to Earth. In a humorous tone, Dr. Crouch depicted times when he would wake up in his bed at home and attempt to push off as if he was still in the shuttle. As you can imagine, the result on Earth was a little different and a little painful.

The lecture included many other interesting tidbits and was probably my favorite up to this point. Next week is the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon. In celebration, NASA will have viewings of "The Wonder of it All," an Apollo documentary, and a live viewing of interviews with six Apollo astronauts. I look forward to participating in the celebration!

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.