Sick of waiting tables at the local crab shack over summer break? It doesn't have to be this way.

You could be gaining professional experience and potentially having the time of your life — with the right summer internship.

Whether you want to be an astronaut, a firefighter or a comic book artist, there's an internship out there for you.

For aspiring astronauts

Want to spend your summer studying rocket propulsion or the habitability of alien planets? Why not apply for an internship with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)?

NASA offers a range of internships for undergraduates, community college students, graduate students and even postdoctorate researchers in facilities around the United States.

NASA's Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) is the organization's largest intern program, open to co-eds studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).

Students apply to the NASA research facility of their choice and are entered into a general applicant pool. If the researchers at your preferred facility think you might be able to contribute something to a project they're working on, they'll offer you a position.

Summer internships at NASA facilities last 10 weeks and pay a stipend of $6,500 to offset living expenses.

For passionate patriots

If space isn't your thing, why not keep things closer to home with an all-American kind of internship? The Smithsonian Institution operates 19 museums, galleries and zoos in and around Washington, D.C., and nearly all of them staff summer interns.

Have a keen interest in folklore? There's a Smithsonian internship for that. Want to spend your summer preserving America's jazz history? There's an internship for that, too.

Or maybe you'd rather be a part of an archeological dig on the southern coast of Alaska or study evolutionary genetics at a state-of-the-art lab within the National Zoo. Your summer internship could take you just about anywhere you want to go.

Many Smithsonian internships offer a stipend to offset living expenses for the summer, but the amount paid varies depending on the position.

When in Rome

Sick of the states? If you're a student at Villanova University in Philadelphia, you might consider packing your bags and heading over to Rome for a truly unique internship experience.

Students in the Computing Sciences or Communications departments at Villanova are eligible for three different internships in the Eternal City — one at the Internet Office of the Holy See, another at the Pontifical Council for Social Communication and a position at the Rome office of the Catholic News Service.

That's right. You could spend your summer sending out working on the Vatican's website, posting pictures to the Vatican's Facebook page or reporting on local events in one of the most dynamic cities in the world.

Vatican internships are unpaid, but housing, food and travel expenses are all covered by Villanova.

For tree-hugging travelers

Want to combine your love for travel, nature and cinematography into one awesome summer internship? The Sierra Club — one of the oldest grassroots environmental organizations in the United States — offers interns the chance to participate in outdoor activities around the country.

Interns might spend the day hiking through a national forest or rafting down a raging river. And the best part? They're asked to record these incredible experiences for the benefit of the Sierra Club's social media followers and email subscribers.

Applicants for "The Best Internship on Earth" must submit a video explaining why they're the best candidate for the job. Selected interns receive a monthly salary, paid travel expenses, $1,000 worth of equipment from The North Face and a new pair of hiking boots.

For roller coaster junkies

Since you were already planning on spending your summer at Six Flags, why not gain a little professional experience in the process? Six Flags, the world's largest amusement park company, operates 18 properties across North America, and many of them hire summer interns.

Internship opportunities with Six Flags include jobs in criminal justice, horticulture, performing arts, zoology and recreation management. And when you're not working, you can ride the roller coasters as many times as you want — for free.

All Six Flags interns receive an hourly wage. Internships typically last anywhere from 10 to 24 weeks.

For intrepid intellectuals

Most internships require you to spend some time indoors, but not too many require that interns remain behind bars.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons' Psychology Predoctoral Internship Program employs postgraduate students in correctional facilities all over the United States, where they receive training and experience in clinical psychology.

Interns work closely with inmates in a variety of counseling programs, including drug abuse, sex offender programs and mental health programs.

This paid position offers students a competitive annual salary and includes employee perks including vacation days and paid holidays.

For cartoon-loving careerists

Why not embrace your inner child this summer by applying for an internship at Nickelodeon Animation Studio? Whether you're interested in writing, recruiting, event-planning or actually creating cartoons, Nickelodeon might just have a place for you.

"Nickterns" are encouraged to participate in business skill workshops, attend executive lunches and watch a lot of "SpongeBob SquarePants."

Internships at Nickelodeon typically last at least 10 weeks, and interns are paid competitive hourly wages.

For rugged professionals

If you're not afraid of fire and don't mind hiking 15 miles a day, you might want to consider an internship with the Student Conservation Association (SCA). The SCA is a nonprofit organization offering more than 1,000 internship positions at locations across the United States.

A few of the most intriguing SCA internships include the Wildlife Management internship at White River National Forest, which requires that students roam around the territories of local animals — such as lynxes, otters and bighorn sheep — recording information about their habitats and population statistics.

Not an animal lover? Perhaps you'd be more at home in the SCA's Prescribed Burn Crew, where intern duties include igniting and monitoring prescribed brush fires.

Most SCA internships and many long-term intern positions even offer medical benefits as well as paid housing and living expenses.

For geeky hotshots

So you already know the difference between green Hulk, gray Hulk and red Hulk, but you can't very well write that on your resume. Why not put your love of comics to good use and apply for an internship with Marvel Comics?

With offices in New York and California, Marvel lets interns see their favorite comic book characters brought to life, from the drawing board to the production studio.

If you're a comic geek with an interest in design, publishing or just about anything else, then Marvel probably has an internship for you.

Internships at Marvel are probably pretty awesome, but they're also unpaid.

For fearless fight fans

Want an internship with serious butt-kicking potential? You might want to apply as an intern with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

They probably won't put you directly in the ring, but the folks at UFC do promise their interns an experience as well-rounded as a mixed martial artist.

There are UFC internships available for those interested in marketing, sales and public relations. Some positions require attendance at UFC events, a major bonus for ultimate fighting fans.

All UFC internships are unpaid.

Follow Elizabeth Palermo on Twitter @techEpalermo or BusinessNewsDaily @BNDarticles. We're also on Facebook & Google+. This story originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.

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This story was originally written for BusinessNewsDaily and was republished with permission here. Copyright 2013 BusinessNewsDaily, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved.
10 amazing internships, from NASA to the Vatican
You could be gaining professional experience — and potentially having the time of your life — with the right summer internship.