By Rachel Payne, Tacoma Community College
After testing his team’s self-designed and constructed experiment on-board a gravity-defying aircraft, a student from Tacoma Community College is busy evaluating his data after experiencing weightlessness at NASA Johnson Space Center’s Ellington Field in Houston.
Eric Shear participated in NASA’s Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program (RGEFP), which gives teams of undergraduate students from across the nation the opportunity to propose, design, build, fly and evaluate a reduced gravity experiment. His team was selected from over 70 proposals based on scientific merit and education outreach potential.
The team tested their experiment aboard NASA’s “Weightless Wonder,” a microgravity aircraft that can produce periods of weightlessness lasting 18 to 25 seconds at a time by flying a series of about 30 parabolas – a steep climb followed by a free fall – over the Gulf of Mexico.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Shear after returning to Washington State. “I would encourage more students from TCC to pursue this opportunity.”
His team consisted of several students from community colleges all over the country. They met at the National Community College Aerospace Scholars program at Johnson Space Center in October 2010 and decided to go for the RGEFP soon after. Participation in the National Community College Aerospace Scholars Program is not a prerequisite for the RGEFP. Any university or community college student team can submit proposals without any prior experience at NASA.
The student team flew their experiment, “NAFION Membrane Wetting in Microgravity,” at Ellington Field from June 16 to 25, 2011. This experiment accomplished most of the objectives during the reduced gravity flights. The team will issue a final report to NASA three months after the flight analyzing the experiment’s effectiveness, scientific findings, and the conclusions that were drawn from the results.