July 19, 1999
John Ira Petty
Johnson Space Center, TX
NASA Plane Gives Students the Opportunity to Experience Weightlessness
U.S. college students will perform a number of scientific experiments in the virtual absence of gravity next month in the next round of flights on NASA’s KC-135A aircraft near the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
NASA's 1999 Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program is funded by the space agency and administered by the Texas Space Grant Consortium in Austin, Texas. In August, 32 teams of students will board the KC-135A to conduct experiments under microgravity conditions.
This year, the student teams fly in two groups. The first flew in March.
During each two- to three-hour flight over the Gulf of Mexico, the aircraft will fly about 30 parabolas, roller coaster-like steep climbs and descents. Each parabola offers the students and their experiments 25 to 30 seconds of zero gravity as they go “over the top.”
The KC-135A is used to train astronauts, test hardware and experiments destined for spaceflight, and evaluate medical protocols that may be used in space.
During the student campaign, teams of up to four students and their experiments fly in the plane’s 60- by 10-foot cargo area. A supervising professor and a student ground-support team will remain at the KC-135’s base at Ellington Field near the Johnson Space Center to support their flying counterparts. Professional journalists will fly with many of the teams to report on their activities.
Students spend months identifying, developing and testing their experiments. NASA experts critique them for scientific merit. Each experiment is subject to an extensive safety review. During the first week of their two weeks in Houston students receive preflight training, and assemble and test their experiments. During week two students fly with their experiments and conduct post-flight debriefings and reviews.
Each team also is required to develop a program for sharing the results of its experiment with teachers, students and the public after the flights. Teams must analyze their data, prepare education and information materials, and submit final post-flight reports.
The program will be conducted again in the year 2000. Additional information is available through the NASA Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities, Texas Space Grant Consortium, 3925 West Braker Lane, Suite 200, Austin, TX 78759. Information about requirements and deadlines for the 2000 program will be posted by that organization on the Internet at http://www.tsgc.utexas.edu/floatn/.
The Texas Space Grant Consortium is part of the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, which is administered by NASA.
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