As a BS/MS concurrent degree student in aerospace engineering, Chicago native and avid snowboarder Michelle Tamayo has worked in the Colorado Space Grant Program throughout her undergraduate career. Her most recent project, DemoSAT, was being used to launch sophisticated technology into space to collect data for research purposes.
DemoSAT consisted of a small balloon satellite that contained several experiments. One of those experiments was a computerized, autonomous rover that was programmed to deploy upon its return to Earth, then take pictures and retrieve soil samples in order to learn more about its landing environment. “The payload was launched on a weather balloon to about 100,000 feet above Earth, where the atmosphere becomes so thin it is classified as the edge of space,” says Michelle. This environment exposed the rover to harsh conditions similar to those found during interplanetary travel. The satellite’s mission was to determine the proper time to deploy the rover/balloon in order for it to survive these extreme conditions.
The DemoSAT team was originally in a technology race with other colleges to work with NASA to send rovers to Mars. Although the DemoSAT did not go to Mars, NASA’s recent successful Mars mission inspired and excited the students to excel in the competition. “It is a really exciting new technology and a huge advance in knowledge about the planet Mars,” she says. It was exciting for her team to replicate what NASA is doing here on Earth. The DemoSAT project would not be possible without funding from the Space Grant Program she says.
“The Space Grant Program helped introduce me to the engineering world,” Michelle says. In the aerospace curriculum, students are required to work in project teams, and in the past Michelle worked on structures and mechanisms teams for various projects within Space Grant. The team leads she has worked with have been strong leaders and role models who encouraged participation from all project development team members. As the structures and mechanisms designer for the DemoSAT project, she was able to work more “hands-on” and have a much larger impact on the project. She says it would be great to have another opportunity to work as a team leader in Space Grant, helping other young students to develop themselves as professionals and as engineers. “I feel as if my skills have been greatly improved upon, enabling me to be a strong contributor to Space Grant as the satellite structural engineer,” she says. “The [Space Grant] program faculty and staff work with you and build you up as an engineer. They don’t ask a lot in return. You work for them and it’s a great experience for you.”
Michelle says her experience also helped her excel in leadership for an outreach program she worked for last summer. The program is Upward Bound that prepares high school Native American students for college. She was involved with teaching these students about science and engineering, and her class built a balloon satellite that was similar to the DemoSAT project.
Michelle also attributes her academic successes in part to her two-year membership on the CU Snowboard Team. “Snowboarding provides a great outlet for the rigorous academics required of such a demanding field. It's great to be able to get out of the lab and spend the entire day exercising and having fun on the mountain,” she says. The team also provides a fun, safe, and progressive means of doing something you love while combining strong academics with competitive snowboarding. The team provides opportunities in the competitive snowboarding world to attend events and travel to different places. Michelle competed last winter in Rail Jam, a local event hosted on University Hill by CU’s Snowboard Team, where professional snowboarding competitors performed tricks on metal rails for cash and products from sponsors.
Last summer she was awarded a scholarship by Lockheed Martin for academic achievement, which was accompanied by a summer internship in Littleton, Colorado. She says, “All these experiences have been wonderful and have helped me develop as a professional and successful engineer.”