NASA's Unlikely Duo

NASA is working on a new rover that will travel farther and faster than it's predecessor on Mars. It's a revolutionary design, and part of it is thanks to an unlikely friendship of two Californians.

One is a NASA scientist. The other is a young man who was struggling to get out of a tough neighborhood, CBS "This Morning" Senior Correspondent Hattie Kauffman.

NASA scientist Art Chmielewski and teen-ager Enrique Garcia met seven years ago in Pasadena, Calif., through the Catholic Big Brothers program. That was the beginning of a relationship that has brought rewards neither could have imagined.

"Garcia had lived in such an iffy neighborhood . . . his mom would keep him at home the whole day," Chmielewski says. "She wouldn't let him even come out for a few minutes on the street. She was afraid he would either join a gang or get shot."

Garcia agrees, adding:"I remember almost every night hearing the police sirens all over the place."

Garica was 10, when Chmielewski came into his life. Through Big Brothers, the two went camping and took a trip to Disneyland. But the most important thing they did was talk.

"One thing I really wanted him to hear over and over again is that he's going to go to college," Chmielewski says. "I felt that if I'm not going to do anything else in his life, at least I'm going to program him to go to college."

The foundation was laid when Chmielewski gave Garcia an old beat-up computer from his office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab.

"When he checked out a computer from JPL for my own personal use, that was the very beginning of a new experience," Garcia says.

Garcia began taking books out of the library and learned how to program with the machine. He started downloading software and graphing packages.

But it was in Chmielewski's office that the real miracle occurred. The mission was to design the next Mars rover. Chmielewski and his colleagues were stuck on a key element: how to design solar panels to provide energy when the rover is not directly facing the sun.

Engineers were bouncing ideas, and Garcia was listening to his whole discussion.

"I didn't even know he was paying attention," Chmielewski says. "And when I came back from lunch, I noticed these sketches on my computer."

Garcia had drawn the design in a balloon shape that would always have some panels facing the sun, a set-up the NASA scientists hadn't thought of.

"It's one of these things. Wow! This is the solution! It's the solution we've been looking for," Chmielewski says.

Garcia's designs have now come to life in a prototype for the next Mars mission.

The solar array produces enough power to charge a battery at night, and the rover can go for kilometers, instead of just a few feet like the Pathfinder.

Whe Garcia's idea was presented at a scientific conference, the official presentation listed "Dr. Enrique Garcia." They assumed only a Ph.D. could have envisioned the new solar-panel design.

So the young man whose mom hadn't gone past second grade but was wise enough to call Big Brothers, is now not only helping out NASA, he is also going to college.

What will he study? Computer animation, of course.