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From NASA to the coffee shop. Kristi Bodahl was once a photographer with NASA, but has since made her home in Hackensack as the owner of Kristi's Coffee Corner. Photo by Travis Grimler

From NASA to owning a coffee shop in Hackensack

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Kristi Bodahl is an unassuming character when you meet her at her Hackensack coffee shop, Kristi's Coffee Corner. But like many people, her life is anything but boring.

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Bodahl is a Minnesotan, raised for most of her young life in Prior Lake where her parents planted in her a passion that didn't come to fruition for many years.

"They had their own hobby farm out there. We raised our own foods and meats. That's kind of where I became interested in 'from scratch' types of cooking," Bodahl said.

She found another passion in photography.

"I had a little Polaroid camera. I started taking pictures and people told me I was really good at that, so I just started kind of excelling at that. It was just something I really liked to do. I thought, 'I want to be a photographer,' so that was a decision I made," Bodahl said.

Bodahl took her interest in photography with her to the community college in Rosemount, where she earned an associate's degree. With her degree in hand, she set out to explore.

"I just wanted to move south for a year, but I ended up staying 20 years," Bodahl said, noting she got a job in Coco Beach, Florida, at a photo lab called Fast Photo. She worked there a few years before she applied to, and was hired by, Bionetics, a subcontracting company for NASA and the U.S. Air Force.

"You had to have complete government clearance. There was a lot of paperwork and interviewing. They did a complete background check on you and drug testing, of course," Bodahl said. "I kept it pretty straight and narrow and I've never had a speeding ticket or anything."

Bodahl never worried that she wouldn't get clearance.

"I got a job working in their photo lab for a couple of years. Then I moved to photographer and videographer from there," Bodahl said.

Bodahl said women in her field were far outnumbered by men.

"You had to prove yourself every day to make sure you did everything right," she said.

Bodahl worked hard to get as many exciting photo assignments as she could.

"We did a lot of shuttle landings, Titans, Deltas, documentations, the Mars Explorer. Pretty much everything that needed to be done there," she said.

Bodahl and the company she worked for were responsible for various photos and videos from famous shuttle launches and other NASA missions.

"Everything I did there was just wonderful. Being inside the Titan rockets where all the equipment and explosives were, and you are wedged in between all these pieces and parts and covered completely because you can't let debris or dust or hair get into these clean areas. It wasn't glamorous, unless you are at an awards ceremony," Bodahl said.

She remembers the Delta II rocket explosion in great detail.

"When the Delta blew up I had just worked a 16-hour shift. I was on my way home and I pulled over to watch it. I was at one of the closest photo spots you were allowed, and it blew up just past the launch pad. The force was just amazing.," Bodahl said.

Bodahl said the equipment they found was in deep craters of melted glass, one of which was the size of a small bus.

"That was scary. It was really frightening. The power of the explosion really threw you back because we were so close," Bodahl said.

Bodahl got to meet astronauts, including John Glenn. She has a stack of autographed photos from them.

All good things come to an end, and after approximately 18 years with NASA, Bodahl was laid off about 13 years ago.

"I do miss it. I was pretty devastated when they did all those cutbacks. I hadn't planned on going anywhere, but you know how governments are," she said.

Because there aren't many places that use aeronautics photographers, Bodahl needed to find a new trade.

She returned to Minnesota and attended Bemidji State University, where she received her bachelor's degree in mass communication with an emphasis in electronics. But after she graduated she realized she couldn't move again, for sake of her son, Garet.

"Minnesota is the best place to raise a child, and he just loves the woods, so I decided I wasn't going to lift him up again. We stayed and I worked out at Deep Portage. I was the kitchen manager for seven years and I've always wanted to open up a coffee shop. I love baking from scratch," Bodahl said.

Kristi's Coffee Corner opened in February 2013 in Hackensack.

"It's a lot more work," Bodahl said.

Bodahl still thinks about her time with NASA.

"Not too many people get to go inside the shuttle and rockets," she said.

She passed her love of photography to her son, whom she says is an incredible nature photographer, but she doesn't do much photography since she is so busy.

Still, Bodahl is happy at the coffee shop.

"I like the people. I like the community and the regulars that come in and talk about how things are going. And I love to bake and I love to cook," she said. "I've done a lot. I'm happy where I'm at and I love the people that come in here."

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