When Maria Regina Apodaca Moreno saw the science fiction movie Star Trek, she knew that she wanted to be like Scotty, one of the characters that was the engineer of the Enterprise ship.
They told her that that only happened in the movies and that in any way in Mexico one does not have the level to reach that goal. Thus, driven by one of her professors from the Faculty of Sciences of UNAM, where Regina is studying a degree in Physics, she decided to make her dream come true and become an aerospace engineer: at NASA, in the United States.
At age 22, she spent four months in an internship program at the NASA Ames Research Center in California, at the beginning of the famous Silicon Valley, a technological reality of the United States that left fiction behind.
“It’s a program to be an intern at NASA, I got it after a year and a half of applying,” said Maria Regina.
The physics student recalled that her first contact to achieve this was her physics teacher, Guillermo Govea Anaya, who believed in her dreams and encouraged them.
“The announcement of the NASA announcement on the page of the Mexican Space Agency was announced. He knew my interest in becoming an aerospace engineer and encouraged me to send my papers, “she recalled.
Regina was one of the five foreign interns who made the stay at NASA, the other four came from Sweden and took the master’s degree. She was the only Mexican and undergraduate. “There were also other inmates from the United States, of different ages,” he said.
The commitment was to do the thesis on an investigation of the US agency and developed the idea of a helicopter that NASA will fly over Mars in the mission planned for 2020.
That helicopter will be the first vehicle to take off and land (fly) several times off the planet. Regina has already performed flight simulations of a scale model.
“I made the model of the helicopter as an outreach project for children to explain what we are doing. I made a toy version respecting the most important features of the team, “she explained.
In her thesis, Regina approaches the study of the interaction between the air and the sand of the ground, during the takeoff and arrival of the helicopter.
“When these teams land in the sand, like in Afghanistan, they generate a huge cloud of dust. Since there is something like sand on the surface of Mars, we do not want it to damage sensors or the helicopter itself, “she explained.
The project consists in taking the first steps to determine if the dust cloud would be a problem for the Martian mission, since if it is very dense, a more resistant sensor must be made.
The helicopter on Mars is a proof of concept to determine if you can fly in an atmosphere as thin as that site. “We want to show that we have the technology to do it on another planet,” she said.
Regina’s thesis is ongoing, several simulations are still missing. In his task, he is supported by Carlos Málaga, a researcher at the Institute of Physics, to do fluid simulation.
Next year the university will conclude her degree and will make applications to pursue a postgraduate course abroad (United States or Europe). “I want to study aerospace engineering or astronomical instrumentation; then I want to go back and apply my knowledge here, “she said.
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