What does Sahar Azizkhani think about when she looks at the moon? “A second chance,” she says.
The mechanical engineering student is working in UM’s Space Technology and Advanced Research Laboratory, or STARLab. Its mission: to make space accessible through technology development and innovation.
With the effects of climate change going full tilt, Azizkhani is among those with a growing curiosity about life in places other than Earth and what that could look like.
She’s helping to figure out how autonomous vehicles can better navigate planetary bodies like the moon without getting stuck—and, if they do, how they can get unstuck on their own. To troubleshoot the mechanics, first you have to recreate the terrain.
What parts of the moon’s surface are you focused on?
We are concerned about terrain that has fine and soft soil that the rover could sink into. We know the chemical makeup of the soil but what it feels like and how it would react under the wheel is a totally different thing.
Some people are using things like poppy seeds to simulate the softer Martian soil, which is super interesting. I’m pretty fascinated with Mars as well but making it habitable would be a challenge because of the long winters and sandstorms.
Do you think we’re going to destroy our planet?
I think it’s moreso that the planet is going to re-set itself. I think the Earth would pretty much go back to nature, with a lot of natural disasters to get there. It would be great for the Earth but bad for us.
Does that scare you?
Absolutely. I feel like we’re getting more and more young people who are very passionate about it and speaking up, getting into politics because of it.
Why did you choose mechanical engineering?
My English wasn’t great. Numbers are pretty universal so I thought that would be a safe place.
As a kid, I would be very fascinated with house appliances. I would sit in front of the washing machine and just stare at it and picture, like, little gears and pullies and stuff working in there to make this possible—something I would see in cartoons! And I would try to guess how it was working.
I was totally off, because I had no understanding of electronics, but I was just really thinking from a mechanical perspective.