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Science

'Caine's Arcade' Star Visits NASA Scientist Who Built Cardboard Rockets When He Was a Kid

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Thu, Apr 19, 2012 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge Rocket scientist, meet boy genius. - CAINE'S ARCADE VIA FACEBOOK
  • Caine's Arcade via Facebook
  • Rocket scientist, meet boy genius.
And here we thought the story of Caine Monroy, the 9-year-old who built a full-scale cardboard arcade in his dad's Los Angeles auto shop, couldn't get any more adorable.

How wrong we were! "Caine's Arcade" filmmaker Nirvan Mullick, who's now a member of the kid's staff, just posted a photo to Facebook of Monroy visiting a top scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

"Robert Manning used to make cardboard rockets when he was Caine's age..."

... reads the caption. "Now he makes real ones." Oh, great. Here come the waterworks. Mullick tells LA Weekly over the phone that this meeting between the 9-year-old arcade king and Rob Manning, the chief engineer of NASA's Mars Pathfinder mission, actually went down on January 23 -- but he thought it deserved a re-post, now that "Caine's Arcade" has gone absurdly viral and its Facebook page has almost 100,000 followers. The filmmaker explains that rocket-scientist Manning saw a rough cut of "Caine's Arcade" in early November of last year, and later approached him, saying, "Guys, this film just really touched me." So he invited little Monroy out to JPL headquarters for a private tour.
click to enlarge "JPL rocket scientist Robert Manning volunteered to give Caine a tour of JPL and the Mars Rover project after seeing 'Caine's Arcade' at the LA Idea Project." - CAINE'S ARCADE VIA FACEBOOK
  • Caine's Arcade via Facebook
  • "JPL rocket scientist Robert Manning volunteered to give Caine a tour of JPL and the Mars Rover project after seeing 'Caine's Arcade' at the LA Idea Project."
"He took us out to a warehouse where they're building arms for the Mars rover," says Mullick. Here's what the filmmaker learned there: "The arm on the Mars rover is a very complicated robotic piece that can shine a laser on something and tell you what it is." Well, that's awesome. According to Mullick, the tour lasted a couple hours. He says Manning was "really generous with his time" -- perhaps because he and the Mars team "had just solved some huge engineering challenge over the weekend." So what did the child prodigy have to say about all this? "He thought it was very cool," says Mullick. (We've contacted Manning for a more rocket-sciencey explanation of the encounter.) But as for Caine Monroy: In the 10 days since "Caine's Arcade" exploded onto the Internet and made grown men cry, the East L.A. insta-celebrity has seen heaps of job opportunities being thrown his way. Mullick says that Hollywood studios are fighting over the film rights to his story, and "every major gaming company" has reached out to the boy wonder. Meanwhile, the kid's online scholarship fund has risen to $177,000 -- well above the original $100,000 goal. According to Mullick, the money will go toward any stage of his education (including, for example, tutoring throughout K-12), or, "if Caine ends up being like Steve Jobs and wants to drop out and make a well-thought-out business plan, those funds would also be available to help him have that kind of opportunity, as well." Mullick calls his pint-sized boss a "serial entrepreneur." "When I first met Caine, he wanted to join the SWAT team," he says. "Now when people ask him, he wants to be a game designer." Like a certain JPL rocket scientists who once built spaceships out of cardboard, we're pretty sure that won't be a problem.

Caine's Arcade from Nirvan Mullick on Vimeo.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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