Most people can only imagine what it feels like to be an astronaut floating freely inside a spacecraft. Six West Virginia University engineering students are actually preparing for flight at NASA s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The students are members of WVU s Microgravity Research Team, one of only 65 undergraduate student groups nationwide to be invited to take part in scientific research in a reduced gravity environment.

Jason Gross, a senior mechanical and aerospace engineering major from Morgantown, and other students have been designing and constructing an experimental apparatus to study the behavior of the phenomenon known as the circular hydraulic jump under conditions of microgravity.

In simple terms, when you wash a dish in a sink, the stream of water hits the plate, spreads out in a thin layer and undergoes an abrupt increase in depth (hydraulic jump) as it flows outward from the center of the stream, he explained.

Between July 19-29, the team will test the apparatus aboard NASA s C-9Weightless Wonderaircraft, which produces weightlessness 25 seconds at a time by executing a series of about 30 parabolasa steep climb followed by a free fallover the Gulf of Mexico. During the free falls, students will be able to gather data in the unique environment and experience how an astronaut feels while floating in space.

Following the flight, the group will analyze the experiments effectiveness, evaluate scientific findings, draw their conclusions and provide the results to the national NASA Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program.

The WVU experimentselected from more than 100 proposals across the nation based on scientific merit and educational outreach potentialcould result in a way to better cool things in space such as electrical equipment, Gross said.

We are very pleased that we are in a position to use our exploration mission to inspire these young scientists and engineers to study and understand their craft,said Donn Sickorez, university affairs officer for RGSFOP .The students tell us that theyve never really put together a complete effort like this one, and that they gain useful skills by participating in the program. We are excited to be able to help them become better, more experienced scientists and engineers.

Members of the Microgravity Research Team are: Adam Feathers, a senior civil engineering major from Newburg; Jackie Grimes, a junior aerospace engineering major from Sewickley, Pa.; Gross; Kerri Phillips, a senior aerospace engineering major from Weirton and 2006 Goldwater Scholar; Tyler-Blair Sheppard, a graduate student in mechanical engineering from Charlton Heights who received his bachelors degree from WVU in May; and Tristan Wolfe, a junior aerospace engineering major from Morgantown.

The team is advised by John Kuhlman and Donald Gray, professors in WVU s College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.