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Joshua Tanon

College: Borough of Manhattan Community College
Awards: Phi Theta Kappa, ; Dean's List, ; CRSP Scholar,


One day, when humans travel to Mars, they may explore the planet with a remote-controlled glider bearing sensors designed by Joshua Tanon (Borough of Manhattan Community College, A.S., Engineering Science '15).

During a 2015 NASA aerospace engineering internship at Edwards Air Force Base in California, Tanon will join a team of top-flight college students to create those sensors and prepare them to fly by the end of the summer.

Why a glider? Mars' atmosphere is less than 1 percent as dense as Earth's and engines are heavy. A superlight, unpowered aircraft with a wide wingspan could generate enough lift to ride Mars' faint air currents.

Why Joshua Tanon? "As a kid, I used to lie in the backyard watching planes and hoping they'd land in my backyard," he says. "In high school, I got this ambition to become a fighter pilot from a video game" - a dream that hasn't gone away. "I have a passion for wanting to serve. If I can't fly planes, learning about aerospace engineering would allow me to fix them."

After graduating from Bronx Community High School, Tanon enrolled at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Queens. In 16 months he graduated licensed to maintain aircraft and their engines. "I learned the ins and outs of aircraft - body, engines, the differences between turbojet and reciprocating engines and how to fix both. I liked working with my hands and seeing how things work." He worked a stint as an aircraft mechanic.

But there was more to learn. In Fall 2012 Tanon enrolled in BMCC's engineering science program and, soon after, in Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, or ASAP, a CUNY initiative that helps community college students earn degrees faster than usual. "My ASAP advisor was there very step of the way - a very personal connection that had me graduate on time," he says.

Tanon studied mechanical structures like bridges, buildings, cars and, of course, planes. "BMCC gave me a theoretical approach to everything in engineering," he says. He also became president of the Physics and Nanotechnology Club on his way to becoming a Phi Theta Kappa scholar.

He intends to earn his bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

"Without ASAP, I don't believe I would have applied to top engineering schools nor NASA," he says. "As an ASAP student leader, I show students the door. My story is a testament to what ASAP did once I walked through that door."

The NASA internship runs for 10 weeks and, when Tanon boards the airplane for the trip to California, he'll be making his first flight after years of dreaming of being aloft. With a laugh, he says, "That's pretty shocking, considering my ambitions."