PORT ALLEN — Jacob Matutino has a curious nature.
He is fascinated by technology and the endless possibilities it offers for the future of space exploration.
That passion is noticed by people, too.
“He’s fantastic,” said Stu Burley, associate director of the Hawaii Space Grant Consortium and Matutino’s longtime Waimea High School mentor. “He is a leader of tomorrow, a natural-born leader for the island of Kauai.”
Being a leader takes work.
But thankfully, NASA wants to take him under its wing.
The Kekaha native will take a summer break in May from his studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Matutino’s ambitions have landed him a coveted 10-week summer internship opportunity at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, where he will be involved in testing rover-related technologies.
“I’ll be able to see Barking Sands while I’m at work,” Matutino said. “I have so many memories of going there while I was growing up.”
Matutino only applied for the one summer NASA internship because he knew he wanted to work at the base.
“Just because there is so much technology there. They’re launching rockets. There is so much going on that is exciting out there,” the 20-year-old said, “It’s nice being around the future.”
Burley recognized Matutino’s strengths while overseeing the 2011 graduate’s participation in activities with the Waimea underwater robotics club.
“He was always investigating and asking questions,” Burley said.
NASA, through the Hawaii Space Grant Consortium, is funding Matutino and his friend and fellow UH peer Kolby Javinar, a 2009 Kauai High School graduate, in an upcoming summer internship. They have been assigned to the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator project, or LDSD.
“I never thought I’d be working on something like this,” Javinar said.
Along with Kyle McDonald, a third intern from Kauai, they will be under the direction of Ian Cook, the principle investigator on the LDSD project and a man who has labeled himself, “a mad scientist guy.” He works for the California Institute of Technology in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“By the end of May, we’ll be practicing operations and the countdown for the launch of the LDSD in June,” Cook said. “We’ve outgrown the technologies we use for Mars Exploration and it’s time to do something new.”
The new he is referring to are supersonic parachutes that will produce two and a half times the drag of the parachute used to land Curiosity, the car-sized rover exploring the surface of Mars.
“We have to test the technologies of the system to see how it will behave at scale size and in a similar environment to Mars,” Cook said.
The success of the LDSD project has the potential to land bigger loads more accurately and put humans on the surface of mars.
“It’s really cool if they end up implementing a more efficient system and I could say I helped out with that,” Matutino said. “It’s a good conversation starter.”
Shad K. Combs, NASA range coordination lead, said that everything went great on the April 24 range compatibility test.
“It was our first interface with the test range and a major milestone for our June 3rd launch date,” Combs said. “Everything went great and the team learned a lot.”
• Lisa Ann Capozzi, features and education reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.