Queens College student helps develop software for NASA spacecraft mission to the moon

Queens College
Queens College student Umar Kagzi helped develop software for NASA’s Artemis I spacecraft mission to the moon. (Photo courtesy of Queens College)

A Queens College senior who helped develop software for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Artemis I spacecraft mission to the moon has been invited to attend the scheduled launch occurring on Monday, Nov. 14. 

Flushing resident Umar Kagzi, a computer science major, was always interested in the software side of things in space. 

Kagzi first approached NASA in spring of 2021, hoping to win one of its highly competitive internships. He was awarded a paid internship by NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement, where he worked remotely that summer as a software engineering intern with the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. 

He and his team had less than two months to develop software for organizing a multimillion-dollar NASA competition called the Deep Space Food Challenge.

“The application we made was used for the official competition and assisted in the grading of hundreds of applications from around the world,” Kagzi said. “The fact that we were able to complete such a sophisticated application in this short timeframe was an astounding achievement and one of the best engineering projects I’ve ever worked on!”

Delayed from liftoff at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida by Hurricane Ian, Artemis I is ready for its mission to the moon. 

The world has been watching this mission closely. Artemis I represents the first phase of NASA’s work on the most technologically advanced space exploration to date, culminating in manned flights to both the moon and Mars as well as scientific projects on the moon.

Kagzi’s work on the Artemis I project led to a second remote internship that fall with the Space Flight Software Development team, where he was able to help write test flight software for the Space Launch System–Artemis Program. 

His primary task was to develop this software for both the Artemis I and Artemis II spaceships using Python and an internal NASA tool. 

“The software tested the internal components and the guidance and navigation systems of the spaceships in a virtual environment to ensure they would work fine in the actual Artemis spaceship,” Kagzi said. 

Since January, Kagzi has held his third consecutive internship at NASA — now as a remote software engineer with the prestigious Pathways program, an opportunity designed to offer him a route to a NASA career. 

Kagzi was one of approximately 160 students chosen for the program out of a pool of nearly 10,000 applicants across NASA. He currently works on developing NASA software projects with his team at the Kennedy Space Center.

In the future, Kagzi looks forward to “working on exciting and challenging opportunities” and someday pursuing an advanced degree. For now, however, he is focused on his own big date in December, when he hopes to graduate with his bachelor’s degree.

“At Queens College, our motto is Discimus ut serviamus: We learn so that we may serve. Umar represents exactly the qualities that we seek to encourage in our students,” Queens College President Frank Wu said. “He is still an undergraduate, yet he has already contributed to a moonshot and, even more profoundly, the advancement of scientific knowledge important to the world. We are tremendously proud of him.”