College students from around the country will hang on to their hats and their lunches as they use a NASA aircraft to conduct experiments in snatches of weightlessness.
About 48 teams of students will carry out scientific experiments in the virtual absence of gravity beginning in mid-February in the next round of flights on the KC-135A aircraft near NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX.
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."
"We're providing a significant educational milestone for most of the students," said Donn Sickorez, Johnson education coordinator for the program. "It gives the students a behind-the-scenes look at science, engineering and the Johnson Space Center."
NASA's 2001 Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program is funded by the space agency and administered by the Texas Space Grant Consortium in Austin, TX. The Reduced Gravity Program began in 1959 to expose people and equipment to weightlessness. The student program began about four years ago.
This year the teams will be divided into four groups of about 12 teams each. The first group is scheduled to begin its almost-two-week stay at Johnson Feb. 8. The fourth and final university group winds up KC-135A activities March 30.
Community college teams will be at the center from April 5 through April 13. Subsequently, teams of Texas and New Mexico high school students will come to the center for microgravity flights, the first group arriving April 19 and the last departing May 11. Additional flights for university teams are scheduled for late summer.
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 Johnson 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.
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 subsequent programs is at:
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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