CALIFORNIA — Tucked deep back in the tightly guarded machine shop of California’s oldest prison, well away from the muscle flexing inmates in “the yard,” a select group of convicted felons has their eyes on space. They fabricate metal housing for miniature satellites designed to explore the heavens. That’s right. San Quentin inmates serving time for horrible crimes are given easy access to some of the sharpest metal humans can make.
They are, most likely, the only prisoners on Earth helping to develop products for space exploration. Ariel Wainzinger, a man with ten months left on his sentence, said: “You come to prison and you think it’s gonna be all gloom and doom and you find yourself with a lot of different opportunities and you take advantage of it.”
Working under the strict guidance of NASA, Ariel and a handful of other skilled inmate machinists are making something most people have never heard of: P-PODs, Poly Picosatellite Orbital Deployers, essentially, aluminum boxes designed to hold tiny satellites known as CubeSats, which ride “piggyback” into space as secondary payloads. The devices are part of a new generation of low-cost, miniature launch vehicles developed for research used by more than 150 universities worldwide. (more…)