WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue students will complete preliminary experiments this spring on fuel lines, weightlessness and tank propellants as they prepare for a fall trip to Houston for the 2000 "Vomit Comet" ride.
Two Purdue teams will fly in a NASA research jet used to train astronauts at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The modified KC-135 jet, affectionately called the "Vomit Comet," recreates the type of weightlessness that astronauts experience in space by making several steep climbs and descents, causing the occupants to experience about 25 or 30 seconds of weightlessness on each dip. The two teams are comprised of a freshman honors class and upperclassmen from the university's School of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering.
The project is sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. About 32 students in eight different teams from Purdue have participated in the experimental flights since 1997.
To qualify for the program, the Purdue undergraduates, many of whom aspire to become astronauts, must first devise engineering solutions to improve space travel.
"This is a project for our most ambitious students," said Steven Collicott, associate professor in aeronautics and astronautics and adviser for the fall flight project. "Normally we only have juniors and seniors, but this year we have a freshman honors class involved."
The students are now working on experiments to improve the design of the research jet, such as creating a "bubble trap" to prevent air from lodging in the fuel line of the jet. Upon completion, the experiments are judged by NASA.
"This is not only a way to learn about engineering, but also a way to work as part of a team from the creation of a project to the end," said freshman honors flight team member Marcy Boynton of Fort Wayne, Ind.
Computer science major Christopher Schneider said he became interested in the project while still in high school at Munster, Ind.
"My goal is to be an astronaut, and I saw this and it looked interesting," said Schneider, who is part of the freshman honors flight team. "I also felt this would be a good opportunity to experience weightlessness and see how I would like it."
Merra Modi of Fort Wayne, Ind., said she heard about the program from her high school adviser.
"I'm not sure I want to be an astronaut, but I felt this would be a very positive experience for me," said Modi, who is also on the freshman honors team "It's not only a way to work as part of a team, but you also get to create an end project."
Other freshman flight team members are Ryan Whitley, aeronautics and astronautics major, Lexington, Ky.; Brian Ward, chemical engineering major, Brownsburg, Ind.; and Raymond Baxter, electrical and computer engineering major, Jewell, Iowa.
The upperclass students who are members of the aeronautics and astronautics team are Jason Helms, a senior from Memphis, Tenn.; Adam Butt, a junior from Carmel, Ind.; Christopher Burnside, a senior from Sweetser, Ind.; and Pooja Agrawal, a junior from Waltham, Mass.
Alternate team members are Adam Galey, chemistry and chemical engineering major, Minnetonka, Minn., and Melanie Silosky, aerospace engineering major, Plainfield, Ill.
Support team members are Mary Knott, aeronautics engineering major, Brownsburg, Ind.; Carmen Sweet, aeronautics and astronautics engineering major, Lafayette, Ind.; Whitney Jackson, aeronautics engineering major, Indianapolis; Amber Rist, aeronautics engineering major, Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Matthew Chaille, chemistry and chemical engineering major, Anderson, Ind.
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