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NASA Offers Students Sky-High Science
07.23.03
 
NASA's Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program offers students a significant educational experience for scientific investigation in the virtual absence of gravity aboard NASA's KC-135A aircraft. Image to left: Thumbs up for a cool virtual gravity experience aboard the KC-135A aircraft.

This summer, college students from across the country are getting a first-hand look at some of the ups and downs of scientific investigation in the virtual absence of gravity aboard NASA's KC-135A aircraft based near Johnson Space Center in Houston.

During each two-hour flight over the Gulf of Mexico, the aircraft flies about 30 parabolas, roller coaster-like steep climbs and descents. Each parabola offers the students and their experiments 20 to 25 seconds of zero gravity as they go "over the top."

On each flight week, 10 to 12 teams of up to four students each are in the KC-135A's 60- by 10-foot cargo area. A supervising professor and a student ground-support team remain at the plane's base at Ellington Field near the Johnson Space Center. Journalists fly with many of the teams to report on their activities.

NASA's Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program offers students a significant educational experience, said Donn Sickorez, Johnson Space Center education coordinator for the program. "They get a behind-the-scenes look at science and engineering. They also see and experience NASA's Johnson Space Center. Some of them may choose to work in the space program after completing their education."

A group of students experience near weightlessness aboard NASA's KC-135A aircraft.Image to right: Teams of students in a NASA altitude chamber during part of their physiological training.

The program began about seven years ago. During those years, about 350 student teams and about 1,700 student flyers have participated. This year more than 70 university and community college teams participated in flights.

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.