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Jonathan Minder got the chance of a lifetime when NASA offered him an internship during his college years. Minder recalls, “I was in the mathematics and engineering program at Hawaii Pacific University, and I was looking at internships around the country. I’ve always loved NASA, so that sounded like a fun place to work. I found the NASA Robotics Academy, filled out the application, and sent it in. When they called, I was so surprised that I thought it was a joke. . . . It was one of the best experiences of my life.”
Over the course of two summers, Minder worked in the Flight Robotics Laboratory. He explained his project as, “designing the backup navigation system to go grab satellites for repair and then bring them back to the space shuttle to fix them.” As part of this project, Minder and his colleagues got to work with equipment that had actually gone into space before, as well as with state-of-the-art devices, such as a robot that could use forced air (rather like an air hockey table) to simulate zero gravity conditions in a room as large as a basketball court. As an added bonus, he even got to meet Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon.
From these experiences, Minder developed a love for working with and creating robots. After finishing school, he opened his own business, Balboa Inspection and Maintenance, which uses robots to inspect pipelines for leaks. While his current work focuses on robots we can use here at home, Minder still has an interest in using robots for space exploration.
Knowing about her son’s interests and experiences, Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School middle school English and Science teacher Julie Minder thought having Jonathan come and speak to her classes could enrich their understanding of space and spark their curiosity. “The middle school students have been studying planetary science, and Jonathan was coming home for Thanksgiving . . . so, I [thought] having a former NASA intern talk to the kids would make sense. I asked him expecting him to say no, [but] he jumped at the chance.”
For his presentation, Minder helped students understand the difference between machines and robots, where using robots makes the most sense, how NASA currently uses robots (such as Mars rovers and asteroid probes) to learn more about space, and how NASA envisions using both humans and robots to accomplish even more research in space in the future. Minder enjoyed presenting as much as the students enjoyed learning from it. “These kids had a lot of questions and were very interested. That really made it more enjoyable for me.”

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