NASA program puts aspiring engineer, Waldorf School graduate to work on Mars rover
December 6, 2010
Written by: MAREESA NICOSIA, The Saratogian
SARATOGA SPRINGS — His engineering talent has taken one local graduate all over the country; one day, his ideas could be flown in space.
Michael Maylahn, 19, a 2009 graduate of The Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs, recently led a team of engineering students in creating a prototype Mars rover at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
A sophomore at Santa Monica College in California, Maylahn was recommended by a teacher to participate in the project, in which just 89 students from across the country were accepted into NASA’s National Community College Aerospace Scholars program after completing a rigorous months-long application process.
To qualify, Maylahn spent about 800 hours last summer completing four web-based research assignments in which he drew up a plan for a hypothetical robotics mission to Mars — in addition to holding down a full-time job and taking an online class.
His plan — including a financial proposal, timeline and sketch of the rover — was accepted, and the process culminated in Maylahn flying from California to Alabama for the three-day, hands-on experience at the NASA center earlier this fall.
There, he led an 11-member team of students from throughout the U.S. to put their rover plan into action, with only 30 hours to get it all done. They competed against 33 other students in Alabama, while a separate group was sent to compete at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
“We had to create a business model for a robotics firm that would hypothetically create and sell a Mars rover to NASA for a mission,” Maylahn said. “Then we were given a box of robotics parts and actually built the rover.”
Maylahn tapped into his natural leadership abilities to encourage team bonding, which is what he believes gave his team the edge to win the competition.
“I divvied up the tasks and helped people if they needed help. The most important part was briefing everyone every couple of hours so they knew what everyone else was doing. As a result, it brought our team close together,” Maylahn said.
The “think outside the box” mantra of his Waldorf School education also played a key role in his success as the team leader, Maylahn said.
Though his forté has always been math and science, Maylahn said he was grateful to his teachers at the Waldorf School for helping him strengthen his weaker areas, like writing and art.
“That made me more well-balanced,” he said. “The more well-balanced you are, the more things you’re able to achieve. I also feel like I have a really good idea of who I am, and at 19 years old, I feel like most of my peers don’t have that.”
Ultimately, Maylahn hopes to combine his love for math and science with his natural leadership abilities and one day run his own robotics firm.
“I feel like I earned so much from this experience, (and got) a glimpse of what I want to do in my career,” he said.