Going Weightless
Teachers with their experiment on a reduced-gravity flight

Teachers Ryan Reinking and Mitch Rorris work with their experiment during a reduced-gravity moment on NASA's Weightless Wonder. Image Credit: NASA

As a writer for NASA's students' and educators' pages, I've written quite a few stories about students and teachers flying experiments on NASA's reduced-gravity aircraft.

There was Robert L. Ford School in Lynn, Mass., that flew an experiment on water droplets. Students and teachers rigged a device to squirt streams of water toward each other. They wanted to see how streams of water act differently in microgravity than on the ground.

Another experiment I wrote about had to do with liquid density. For this one, teachers from Kilmer Elementary School in Chicago flew jars of different liquids -- water, oobleck (a mixture of cornstarch and water), dish soap, cola and others -- and observed how the liquids reacted in reduced gravity.

One school flew an experiment to test the effects of microgravity on chemical reactions. The experiment, from Key Peninsula Middle School in Lakebay, Wash., specifically looked to see if microgravity affected the rate at which baking soda and vinegar mixed to create carbon dioxide gas.

An airplane is shown demonstrating the arc a reduced-gravity airplane flies

On reduced-gravity flights, airplanes fly in large arcs called parabolas. Image Credit: NASA
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It's always entertaining for me to talk with these teachers and students about their projects, and each time I am so impressed by their creativity and detailed experiments. In addition to talking to them about the science behind their work, I always ask, "What's it like to be in microgravity?" I get fun reactions about how there's nothing else like it, and it's indescribable. If they can describe it, they use words like "unbelievable," "fantastic," "amazing" and "awesome."

In a few days, I'll know for myself. This time, instead of just interviewing a team, I'll be flying with them. From June 3-9, 2009, I'll be at NASA's Johnson Space Center and Ellington Field in Houston with a student microgravity team from the University of Colorado at Boulder. After a few days of training, we'll fly. The airplane will fly out over the Gulf of Mexico and perform 30 parabolic maneuvers -- basically an up-and-down roller coaster pattern. As the plane climbs, we will feel the pull of about twice the gravity of Earth. The pilot will cut the engines, and everyone in the plane will be in freefall as it reaches the top of the parabola and heads back downward. For about 18 to 25 seconds, we'll feel what it's like to float in space.

Alvin Drew and Heather Smith

Heather Smith, shown standing beside astronaut Alvin Drew, writes feature articles about NASA's missions and education programs for the agency's educators' and students' Web pages. Image Credit: NASA

Sounds fun, doesn't it? The best part is, I'll be writing about it the whole time, so students and teachers can follow my Free Falling blog on the NASA blogs page for regular updates and photos while I'm gone. And when I get back, I'll be writing more about the University of Colorado's Wilberforce Pendulum experiment (which, by the way, is very cool) and how students are going to use videos from the flight for education.

I also will be interviewing people who do these flights all the time -- the pilots, mentors and scientists who do this as their career. I am very excited to highlight these people and their unique and fun NASA jobs.

So follow along on Free Falling, June 3-10, 2009, as I share my firsthand reduced-gravity experience with you all.

Related Resources
Free Falling   →
Microgravity University   →
NASA's Johnson Space Center
The Ups and Downs of Science Education
The Future of Plants Is Up in the Air
Swinging for the Fence
NASA Brain Bites What's the Vomit Comet?

Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services