Aerospace Engineer Maria Grulich

“Space is my passion”

TUM Alumna Maria Grulich has only recently completed her studies but has already worked for the most important space agencies. With an international crew, she recently carried out a simulated Mars mission.

From the very beginning it was clear to Maria Grulich that she wanted to reach for the sky – literally. She has always been fascinated by space travel. For her there is something magical about it. “I am a big fan of science fiction films”, says Maria Grulich with shining eyes. “I think the best part is that they always talk about ‘the one human race’. The international working environment in the space industry shows that we can transcend borders to work together in space.”

Good Mood on Mars

Just recently, the young aerospace engineer was able to experience the extent to which space travel can overcome borders – geographical, cultural and interpersonal ones – on her first mission to “Mars”, a so-called analogue simulation. Together with seven students and young professionals from America, Spain, Great Britain, Kuwait and Germany, she spent two weeks in close quarters at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in the desert of Utah. The research station of the non-profit Mars Society simulates life and work on Mars as realistically as possible. These field tests are to prepare actual missions to the Red Planet in the best possible way.

Maria Grulich during an Extravehicular Activity (EVA) in the desert of Utah.

Planetary exploration tours are part of the programme for the simulated Mars missions. Taking soil samples in a heavy and bulky space suit was a lot more strenuous than Maria Grulich expected (Photo: Natalia Larrea).

In addition to experiments in Geology, Biology, Astronomy, Technology and regarding the use of scarce resources, the human factor in the isolated and hostile extreme environment was one of the main research areas of the simulation. With the help of video calls and online interfaces the participants had to overcome the borders of five continents beforehand, in order to effectively plan the mission and the common research goals together as a team. “This was a challenge right from the start until everyone found themselves in their role,” Maria Grulich admits. “But for space missions, teamwork is essential.”

At TUM I have acquired the necessary stamina to reach my goal.

As the Crew JournalistIn, Maria Grulich was responsible for smooth external and internal communication in the first round of her mission. During her next stay, she will take on a much greater responsibility for the mission and the members from six countries in the role of Commander of Crew 221. She will be responsible for the safety and the physical and mental well-being of the crew, as well as for the general success of the mission and the compliance with the scientific, technical and operational objectives. “I’m already very excited,” she confesses, “I’m curious to see how my professional decisions, but also the sports units and meditation sessions I have planned, will affect the team.”

A High-Flyer on Earth, Too

For Maria Grulich the human factor is not only important on Mars. Even during her studies of Aerospace Engineering at TUM she placed particular emphasis on good interpersonal relationships and lively professional exchange with students from all over the world. She is eager to put what she has learnt at TUM into practice. In the Scientific Workgroup for Rocketry and Spaceflight WARR she worked on the mechanical design of a 1U CubeSat, a small satellite developed at TUM. And while still a student, she developed a rocket experiment for the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Swedish National Space Agency as part of the REXUS project, which flew into the thermosphere in 2015.

As soon as she completed her studies in 2016, Maria Grulich was awarded one of the coveted trainee positions at the European Space Research and Technology Centre of the European Space Agency ESA in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. She is currently working at DLR in Cologne and, as an operations engineer, is responsible for maintenance and experimental procedures for the payloads (BIOLAB and MSL) in the ESA Columbus Space Laboratory. Obviously, Maria Grulich also wants to travel to the far reaches of space herself. In 2020 she will apply to ESA as an astronaut. In TUM professor Ulrich Hans Walter, a former scientific astronaut on board of the Columbia orbiter, and TUM Alumna and ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, Maria Grulich has found two of the best role models for this career. “Space is my passion,” she says, “At TUM I gained the stamina I need to achieve my goal. I never give up and am going my own way.”