MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: John G. Watson
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEAugust 20, 1998
TEENAGE LATINO STUDENT'S DRAWINGS TURN INTO NASA REALITY
When Enrique Garcia was growing up in Pasadena, CA, in a
bilingual home with his Spanish-speaking mother, Eduarda, he
dreamed of becoming a comic book illustrator.
But his life has taken a different turn: last summer, as a
16-year-old summer employee at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
in Pasadena, the budding artist and computer graphics wiz drew
concept designs for an inflatable solar array and, as part of a
team effort, for a rover with 1.5-meter-high (five-foot)
inflatable wheels. This summer, as he now heads to college, his
designs have been transformed into actual working prototypes that
are available for use on future NASA missions.
"It was cool to see my drawings turn into something real,"
says Garcia, 17, who just completed a second summer employee
stint at JPL and has now started classes at Chaffey Community
College in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, where he is majoring in computer
animation. "But it was also bizarre, because I'd never dreamt of
anything like that happening."
When Garcia was 10, Eduarda, a single mother originally from
Mexico, contacted the Catholic Big Brothers program, one of more
than 500 affiliates of Big Brothers of America, to team him with
a Big Brother -- a member of the community who would serve as a
father figure to her son. The candidate turned out to be Art
Chmielewski, now manager of the Space Inflatable Technology
Program at JPL.
Coincidentally, Chmielewski's own father had been a comic
book illustrator in his native Poland, so he and Garcia quickly
bonded through their mutual interest in drawing. Chmielewski
arranged for Garcia to use a computer loaded with computer
graphics software, and Garcia was soon off and running. The young
student honed his skills two years ago when, as a junior at
Upland High School in Upland, CA, he became a certified advanced
microcomputer repair technician through a regional occupational
program in nearby Claremont.
"If I had never met Art, I would never have even thought of
working someday at a NASA research lab," recalls Garcia, who
lives with his mother in Upland. "I was a typical fifth grader,
thinking about drawing comics, but I never thought I'd ever be
picturing ideas for the space program."
As a student employee this summer and last, he worked not
only on computer graphics tasks but also web mastering and video
editing projects. During the Mars Pathfinder landing in July
1997, Chmielewski analyzed ways to transform the Sojourner rover
into inflatable technologies that could be launched folded up
like origami, then unfolded and rigidized in space or on
celestial bodies when needed. Chmielewski's discussions with his
staff inspired Garcia to use graphics software to draw an
inflatable, balloon-shaped solar array capable of picking up
sunlight from a variety of angles. Working in concert with JPL
engineer Jack Jones, now head of JPL's inflatable rover team,
Garcia also used the magic of drawing software to transform
Sojourner into an inflatable structure with huge wheels that
could be inflated upon arrival on a planet or moon.
Chmielewski was so taken by Garcia's efforts that he found
NASA and private sector funding to transform the designs into
working prototypes, under Jones' stewardship. Today, the two
technologies are part of a growing arsenal of inflatable
technologies ready to be adapted to the specific needs of new
Though their official Big Brother-Little Brother days are
ending, Garcia and Chmielewski remain buddies -- close enough
that Garcia feels free to critique the very prototype rover whose
construction Chmielewski oversaw. "Frankly, I was disappointed
when I first saw it, because it didn't look exactly the way I
drew it," he says. "But then you take into account all of the
technical stuff that has to happen, and you get over it."