By: Ryan Scott
Mesa Community College Students Jonathan Talos and Ricky LeDesma recently got to participate in the NASA National Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program.
The NCAS program is strictly limited to community college students. Those who are chosen to participate in the program are invited to do an interactive online coursework that is followed by a three-day visit to NASA.
“It was the experience of a lifetime,” Talos said.
Talos and LeDesma were two of only four students from MCC who have ever been selected to participate in the program.
The process began for them last summer when they were among 350 to be chosen from more than 1000 applicants to participate in the online coursework. Of that number only 40 were chosen to take the three-day trip to NASA.
They spent their three days at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.
The pair said that even though the experience was exciting, it was also very stressful and took a lot of hard work. They were split into teams of 10 and were tasked with developing and building a robot for a mock Mars mission.
“I still think about it all the time,” LeDesma said.
At the end of the three days, each team was awarded a sum for their mock Mars mission based on what they had accomplished and what their plans were. Talos’ team was awarded $1.2 billion, which was a record for the history of the program.
The next closest team was awarded $200 million.
Aside from the 13 hour days Talos and LeDesma spent working on their projects, they also got to take a tour around the JPL and even got to sit in the head seat at mission control.
LeDesma got to meet one of his personal hero’s, Adam Steltzner, a NASA engineer who helped work on the Curiosity rover.
LeDesma said he has been interested in NASA for most of his life and that meeting Steltzner helped to make his dream of working for NASA feel a bit more real.
“It was even more relatable because he was a non-traditional student like me,” LeDesma said.
LeDesma plans to transfer to Stanford, Berkeley or ASU after graduating from MCC and pursue his degree in aeronautical engineering.
Talos, however, said that even though he has always been interested in NASA he is pursuing a career in biomedical engineering, though the experience has made him rethink things a bit.
“This was the first step of a realization of a dream I’ve had since I was a kid,” LeDesma said.
Students who would like to learn more about the program can visit ncas.aerospacescholars.org.