Apodaca, Star Trek fan. Apodaca, Star Trek fan.

Star Trek inspired student’s study goals

Mars helicopter focus of study for UNAM student who won a NASA internship

Inspired by the television series Star Trek, a Mexican student is off to study with NASA and her solar-powered helicopter could be off to Mars.

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For María Regina Apodaca Moreno, 22, of all the crew members of the starship Enterprise it was chief engineer Scotty who was her inspiration.

So she decided to study aerospace engineering despite warnings from some that Mexico could not offer the educational level necessary for her to emulate the feats of her hero.

Apodaca enrolled in the physics school at the National Autonomous University and now, a year and a half later, has won a four-month internship at the Ames Research Center, a facility operated by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration at Moffett Federal Airfield in California’s Silicon Valley.

Apodaca teamed up with the four other foreign students, all from Sweden, to work together — and emulate her hero Scotty.

The students had to develop a thesis based on current research performed at Ames, so Apodaca focused on NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission and its Mars Helicopter Scout (MHS), an autonomous, solar-powered helicopter.

“I made a model of the helicopter as a teaching project aimed at children to explain what we are doing. It is a toy version that respects its most important characteristics,” she said in an interview.

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But getting a helicopter to take off in the Martian environment is no easy feat. For her thesis, Apodaca had to run several simulations to properly assess the interactions between the Martian atmosphere and the terrain.

“When the drone lands it creates a huge dust cloud. As the surface of Mars is covered with something that resembles sand, we don’t want it to affect sensors or the helicopter itself,” she explained.

So Apodaca’s collaboration in the yet unnamed Mars 2020 mission will help prove “if we have the technology to fly [a helicopter drone] on another planet.”

After her internship with NASA, Apodaca plans to conclude her physics studies before enrolling in a postgraduate course abroad in aerospace engineering or astronomical instrumentation. “Then I want to return and apply my knowledge here.”

Source: Animal Político (sp)

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