Space: A Frontier of Passion and Complex Systems

Alexander Salazar, a Master Student of the System Engineering and Design dreamed to Space, as a frontier to complexity of the engineering systems. Today, his dream is becoming true. He will be a Blue Origin engineer, a privately funded American company building Space Rockets and a Space Station.

Salazar, a Peruvian-American, learned that the education could give you wings to fly toward your dream. Not always is it easy to choose the right career pathways, which drives you to the final goal. For Alexander, Integrative Systems and Design Department (ISD) was the right choice.

“ISD really stood out,” Salazar said. “The emphasis on integrative and the flexibility to customize my courses to what interested me the most were the most impressive factors. At ISD, you are free to explore and roam in whatever interests you. There are so many different views in a classroom.”

A complex system engineering background

ISD disciplines educate students to understand the dimensions of complexity when designing an engineering systems. Complex systems include a myriad of individual components; for example, a car has about 30 thousand components, an airplane about six million and a space shuttle about three million. Their manufacturing, sensing and integration requires a carrousel of knowledge that a leader like Salazar garnet during his bachelor in aerospace engineering, an industry experience and a master in systems engineering and design.

“ISD makes me a better leader and one who has a deeper depth and breadth of knowledge to come up with creative ideas to solve highly complex problems by breaking them down into more solvable steps,” he said. “ISD offers the mindset of systems thinking and gives me the opportunity to customize my interests to reach my goals.”

The degree in aerospace helped him land his first professional engineering job at Atlas Copco in New Hudson, Mich., as a Design Engineer / Project Engineer from March 2019-August 2021. Here, in the automotive field, he designed self-pierce riveting systems to function with large payload robots that make joints on different materials; designed, tested, and validated C-Frame parts made from steel using SolidEdge and ANSYS to meet customer’s structural and functional requirements; and collaborated with the manufacturing engineering and operations team on design reviews, which focused on design optimization for safety and manufacturability

“Earning a U-M degree helped me a lot through the job interview process,” he said. “Recruiters would tell me you went to an amazing school. U-M gave me an upper edge over other candidates because of the university’s reputation.”

A 21st (twenty-first) Century Engineer

Salazar’s passion for space is associated with his childhood when he was fascinated or maybe inspired by the History Channel television series (2007-2015) while attending middle school in Miami, Fla., a few years after moving from his birth town of Lima, Peru. 

“I loved watching The Universe and learning more about the mysteries of space,” said Salazar, who is expected to graduate with a M.Eng. in Systems Engineering + Design, ISD, University of Michigan, in April 2022. “I enjoyed learning about space and what we may be doing in the future. We’re taking people to space now so space exploration has always been very exciting to me.”

For seven seasons, The Universe explored the deepest reaches of space to understand ground-breaking new scientific discoveries — from the planets to the stars and out to the edge of the unknown.

Salazar continued to fuel his passion for engineering through FLAME, a joint program between Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Florida International University. The program is designed for minority high school students interested in engineering and exposes them to a challenging curriculum focused on real-world applications and project-based learning.

Later in high school, he learned about CAD (Computer Aided Design). Those lessons continue to benefit him today. 

“I use CAD even now in my education and my professional career,” he said. “It helps me visualize my thoughts and ideas, which then are turned into reality. CAD helps me take projects from concept through the life cycle.”

This knowledge combined with systems engineering specific simulators such as STAR- CCM, allowed him to design the NACA 2412 airfoil using CATIA and by running STAR-CCM simulations from angle of attacks ranging from 0 to 25 degrees comparing lift, drag, and pitching moment to the Eppler 422 airfoil.

Space contributions are starting from the Earth. Salazar is now part of a Multi-Disciplinary Team aiming to build Maple-Seed-Inspired Flyer Sensors in the lab and advised by Dr. Xiaogan Liang, Professor of the Mechanical Engineering Department. The team is building an in situ flyer-based sensors, which is demanded to capture local complex phenomena.

Giving Back

Salazar is a master of flying smart objects, which are built using human-centered engineering principles. Moreover, in recognition of his highly appreciated achievements, he was invited in the panel of the ISD DEI summit to help shape the future of ISD research through identifying DEI principles that position U-M to create better solutions for a better world.

It is the mission of the new generation of engineers to consider their creativity around people and preserve the civilizations. Salazar’s original country is the oldest known civilization in the Americas, dating back to 3200 BCE.

“I learned a lot in my engineering education and my professional career,” said Salazar, who speaks English and Spanish fluently. “I learned when you make a mistake, own it. Don’t make excuses. Learn from your mistakes. Improve from your mistakes, help others learn the ropes, and be a better engineer. Now I will help others be better engineers.”