When Perla Latorre-Suarez ’21 As a child, she remembers holding her brother’s hand in the mountainous region of Orocovis in Puerto Rico where she grew up and looking up on a clear night as the International Space Station flew overhead.
“That day, my parents explained to me its purpose and all the experiments and investigations carried out; that’s where all my interest in space comes from, ”says Latorre-Suarez.
Her passion was fueled by an enthusiastic professor who encouraged her to continue her science studies, a trip to the Kennedy Space Center on a family vacation, and visits to the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which UCF manages. for the US National Science Foundation.
Today, the former mechanical engineer is earning a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from UCF. His current area of research is 3D printing of sensors, fabricated in space, that will monitor the structural integrity of components and vehicles used by explorers on other planets.
“My biggest goal is to be able to collaborate on space missions, such as the Artemis lunar mission,” she says. “I want to keep astronauts safe while exploring other planetary surfaces.”
Latorre-Suarez, who was recently named a 2021 X-Force member by the National Security Innovation Network and the Department of Defense and a member of the NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium, chose UCF because of its excellent faculty, she says. As an exceptional student, she had a lot of options.
“UCF has amazing teachers like Dr (Seetha) Raghavan who are always ready to help their students achieve their goals,” she says. “UCF gave me the opportunity to grow as a professional and as a person. By having the opportunity to lead research projects, I improve my skills in research, time management, teamwork, communication and more.
Latorre-Suarez credits Raghavan for his continued space research at UCF. They connected after Latorre-Suarez transferred to UCF from Polk State College. The ardent undergraduate student has been invited to assist graduate students in their research on the structural integrity of aircraft. Together, they pursued 3D printing and later determined that they could probably use a stand-alone application method for space missions. It is a work that Latorre-Suarez continues today because she knows that it will make the difference.
“Exploring space is important because we can get a lot of answers that we won’t be able to get here on Earth,” she says. “We can get answers about the history of our solar system and understand how it was formed. With these answers, we will be able to expand the technologies that will benefit us here on Earth as well as lend ourselves to further exploration. “