NASA Announces Student Teams to Fly in Microgravity

WVU Graduate, Jason Gross, in Microgravity, Photo Credit: Kerri Phillips

NASA has just announced the teams selected to participate in the 2012 Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program (RGSFOP). Fourteen teams of undergraduate students representing universities in the United States were selected to participate in this highly competitive program based on proposals submitted to NASA in the fall of 2011.  Teams submitted extensive proposals for research experiments to be conducted in a microgravity environment at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas.

The fourteen teams selected to participate in the 2012 program are: Arizona State University, University of Southern California, Yale, University of Florida, Boise State University, Purdue University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Santa Ana Community College, Lamar University, University of Texas at El Paso, Virginia Polytechnic and State University, University of Washington, and West Virginia University.

The teams who have earned a flight spot in the program now must design and fabricate their experiment over the next four to six months and prepare it for its microgravity flight. The experiments must meet certain criteria for size and safety, and will be evaluated once brought down to JSC with the teams prior to their flight. Students who will fly with the experiment are also expected to pass a FAA Class III flight physical before being cleared for flying. Additional physiological training must be completed at JSC in the week leading up to the flight, where students have the opportunity to learn about the effects of hypoxia.

2006 Student Flight Teams, Photo Credit: NASA JSC

 The aircraft flies approximately 30 parabolic maneuvers out over the Gulf of Mexico. During the climb phase of the parabolic trajectory, hypergravity is experienced by those onboard (about 1.8-2.0 G). Microgravity conditions (near zero G) are experienced for approximately 18 to 20 seconds as the aircraft “noses over” the top of the parabola and descends toward Earth. During the periods of microgravity, the student fliers have the opportunity to collect data from their experiment, as well as have fun experiencing the effects of microgravity.

 Following the flight, teams are expected to analyze the data they collected and submit a final report. Additionally, teams are expected to maintain the NASA tradition of conducting outreach to K-12 students, universities, and the local community about their experience and encourage STEM education. AmericaSpace will have additional coverage of the training process and student microgravity flights following the 2012 student campaign. For more information on the RGSFOP, visit the NASA microgravity website.

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