Maylahn makes one giant step for SMC

As students of Santa Monica College, we all have seen the importance of taking an opportunity when one presents itself. Michael Maylahn, a sophomore at SMC, saw a potentially great opportunity and went for it.

During his English 1 class with Professor Kevin Menton during the spring, Menton informed him about a chance to get to work with NASA.

"I thought that having a glimpse of what I wanted to do with my life would be really cool for a sophomore in college," said Maylahn. "This seemed like an opportunity where I could figure out what my dream is."

The program, known as National Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCCAS), is held at the Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama. On Sept. 17, his dream came sharply into focus when he was accepted into the program.

The project manager, Deborah Hutchings, said, "We had 271 apply to the program and we are bringing 89. The idea behind this program is to engage students and inspire them to go on to four year degrees and hopefully come back to work with NASA, either as an intern or a full time hire eventually." Upon leaving the program, they will get a "Certificate of Completion," and they are considered Aerospace Scholars alumni.

"While he's in Alabama, he will spend three days with scientists and engineers who are working on different projects that NASA has to offer," said Hutchings. "They'll split up into groups of ten and design a rover, its budget, and a company that will be in charge of the rover, then try to sell that all to NASA as a contract. They will also go on onsite tours and hear several guest speakers, most of which are scientists and engineers in the area."

Maylahn was accepted to NCCAS after a lengthy application process, which included a letter of recommendation and an online class. Students were required to score above a 93 percent on four assignments that had each student plan a robotics Mars mission in intricate detail. These four assignments involved presenting the objectives, the budget, an overall proposal, and a line drawing of the rover.       

The Mars mission that Maylahn planned is a groundbreaking new technique that has not yet been carried out. It would entail NASA sending a robot to Mars to collect samples and have it return to Earth for testing. Maylahn believes that this would "aid in the development of new ideas, help plan future missions and further technology." He also hoped that it would be one step in the direction of "the piece of information that is desired most: what it will take to put a human on Mars."   

Maylahn believes the level of technology that these Mars rovers require will serve other purposes as well. "Something that they develop just for this rover can then come to benefit all of society," he said. A few examples of this includes a generator released by Boeing that works like a solar panel (but much more efficient), and a laser communications antenna which would speed up data transmission.

 "I'm really passionate and enthusiastic about this. Engineering is the field I have been getting into. Math and science have just always came really easy to me," said Maylahn. "Ever since I was little, I've looked up into the night sky and been amazed. We are so small compared to the whole macrocosm of the universe."