Mexican student develops a helicopter to fly on Mars

She has made flight simulations for the 2020 mission

María Regina Apodaca - File photo/EL UNIVERSAL

23/08/2017 12:00

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Newsroom




It all began with Star Trek. Thanks to the science-fiction saga, María Regina Apodaca Moreno decided she wanted to be like Scotty, the chief engineer of the USS Enterprise, but people told her it was just science fiction, that Mexico didn't have that kind of level.

Yet this Physics student, currently enrolled at the Faculty of Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), transformed her initial frustration in perseverance and has already begun to make her dream a reality: become an aerospace engineer.

She's only 22 years old, but she has already done a four-month internship at NASA's Ames Research Center, in the famous Silicon Valley of California – a technological reality of the United States which has left behind the fiction.

“It's an internship program at NASA; I got accepted a year and a half after I sent in my application,” said María Regina.

The young physicist remembers her first contact was her Physic's professor, Guillermo Govea Anaya, who believed in her professional dreams and encouraged her.

“He saw the NASA's announcement on the website of the Mexican Space Agency. He knew I wanted to become an aerospace engineer and encouraged me to apply,” she recalls.


The experience

During her internship, she was one of five foreign students; the other four were Swedish and currently studying their Master's. She was the only Mexican student from an undergraduate program.

The commitment was to work on a thesis related to one of the American agency's current research lines. “The experience has helped me to develop my work, which is going to be a helicopter that NASA will fly on Mars for the 2020 mission.”

It will be the first vehicle capable of launching and landing several times outside our planet. The student made several flight simulations with a scale model.


“I made the model of the helicopter as a project aimed to explain to kids what we'll be doing. I made a toy that kept the most important characteristics of the equipment,” she explained.

In her thesis, Regina covers the study of the interaction between air and the surface dust during the helicopter's launching and landing. The project consists of taking the first steps to determine whether the dust cloud found on the Martian surface will be an issue for the mission – if it the dust cloud is too dense, a more resistant sensor will have to be used.

The helicopter will test if flying is a possibility in a thin atmosphere, like the one found on Mars. “We want to prove we have the technology to fly on another planet,” said Regina.

Her thesis is still in progress and needs to complete several simulations, but she's hopeful about her future. Next year she will major in Physics and then she wants to study a graduate program abroad (The United States or Europe). “I want to study aerospace engineering or astronomical instrumentation; then I want to come back [To mexico] and apply what I learned,” she said.


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