Mike Jensen is the Deputy Chief of NASA JSC’s Training Branch (CK2), the organization responsible for integration and leadership of crewmember and flight controller training for NASA’s crewed programs including ISS, Commercial Crew and Exploration/Orion. He also supports real-time flight control operations as an ISS CAPCOM, serving as a voice of MCC Houston to the ISS since Expedition 5.
Mike is a graduate of Valparaiso University in Electrical Engineering and an alumnus of Immanuel Lutheran School class of 1985. Jensen knew he was always destined for NASA. “I started dabbling in computers in 5th grade by getting bus rides over to Valparaiso University, where my dad worked in the engineering department. The college students would sometimes log me in to the mainframe and let me start coding or play games on those early pre-network/pre-internet computers. That helped set me on a path towards deciding to become an Electrical Engineer.”
He remembers vividly when Immanuel received their first computer, an Apple llc back in 1981. “I was one of the early students in Valparaiso trying to convince my teachers to accept essays and writing assignments printed out from a word processor instead of hand-written. At the time quite a few teachers simply wouldn’t accept computer printed assignments! What is common nowadays with my own kids was once a shock to teachers accustomed to the pre-computer world.”
Jensen was also on three episodes of Junkyard Wars, a TV show on the TLC network where teams are given a technical challenge. His team, the “Rocket Men” won two of the three episodes they competed in.
Jensen wanted to let our robotics clubs know, “Increasingly we repair equipment outside the space station (hardware mounted outside the pressurized living environment the crew works within) via expansive robotics systems designed and built by the Canadian Space Agency for the program. We use the robotic arm to capture and attach our cargo spacecraft to the ISS, and then use that arm along with smaller robotic arms to replace both science experiments and vehicle hardware remotely. Flight controllers here in Houston and up in Canada are physically operating the robots that maintain the outside of our national science lab in low earth orbit. These systems free up crew time so the astronauts and cosmonauts can spend more of their work hours conducting other science experiments and maintenance activities inside the vehicle. When we build our next space stations or surface habitats around the solar system, robotics will play an increasing role in supporting and even leading the work before crews arrive to set up camp and begin their exploration and science activities. I don’t think we’ll see crewed exploration that doesn’t include robotics ever again. They’re here to stay.”
Jensen continued, “School is as much about learning ‘how’ to learn as it is the specific details of each subject. You may or may not use some particular thing you learn in school, though at times life will surprise you with a sudden application of a subject or bit of knowledge you learned from years past. But the self-discipline about how to tackle a subject, how to study, how to learn something you didn’t know before. These are foundational skills.”
Jensen wanted to let the students of Immanuel know four important life lessons:
- Faith can be an important cornerstone in the years ahead. Life will give you unexpected challenges and complications. Understanding how the Scriptures and church relate to your life can be a source of strength you can call on when days are hard.
- Recognize how many people around you work to provide you a productive day at school. Not just your teachers, but the staff, the folks in the cafeteria, the maintenance team/person, the janitorial staff. Appreciation for the work of others that enables your day is a good habit for life.
- Study history. Learn about things that have gone right and then why they went right. Learn about how other things went wrong, and why. The great miracle of written word, of books and now even the internet, is the ability to share knowledge and lessons. You don’t have to make the same mistakes of others, but rather, climb on their shoulders and reach for new lessons and knowledge.
- Passing along a morals lesson one of our veteran flight directors: Every single person you meet in your life, whatever their age, whatever their job, whatever their life, is infinitely more knowledgeable and skilled than you in hundreds or even thousands of specific areas of knowledge or skill. You can’t tell from what age a person is, or what color, or what gender, or what size, or by what work they do. Assuming that you have nothing to learn from another person is the failure that starts to limit your own growth and evolution. Every person you talk with has areas of expertise that dwarf your own. (This is even true for adults and kids, especially the older the kids get!) Every day is an opportunity to learn new things, and those lessons can come from anyone you interact with. Thus, walking through life with this knowledge is the basis for appreciative humility and consideration towards others.