SeveralWest Virginia Universityengineering students got to experience something this summer most people never dofloating in a weightless environment.
The Microgravity Research Team in WVU sCollege of Engineering and Mineral Resourceswas chosen to fly and conduct an experiment aboard the National Aeronautics and Space Administrations C-9 aircraft, the Weightless Wonder.
The aircraft flies in parabolic motiona series of steep climbs and divesto create multiple periods of microgravity, allowing those inside the aircraft to experience the sensation of weightlessness. The flight took place in June at the NASA John Space Center in Houston.
Members of the WVU Microgravity Research team are Emily Calandrelli, Gavin Hall, Jesse Phillips and Corey Snyder, all of Morgantown; Greg Duckett of Harrisburg, Pa.; Charles Harner of Williamstown; Eileen Reiff of Ocean Township, N.J.; and Alan Talbott of Walkersville, Md. All are mechanical and/or aerospace engineering majors at WVU .
John Kuhlman, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the teams adviser, accompanied the group. This was the seventh year in the past eight years that a WVU team was accepted to participate in the flights, which are part of NASA s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program.
Of the hundreds of universities across the country that submitted proposals, WVU s team was among 57 teams that were chosen to fly this summer.
The WVU Microgravity Research Teams have done exceptionally well in this highly competitive program, and they gain a lot from the trip,Kuhlman said.Each year, the team members seem to undergo a significant maturation and growth of their technical skills.
To be chosen for the flight, the aspiring engineers had to submit a proposal for an experiment to conduct in microgravity conditions. Once the team was informed of its acceptance, members began working on their experiment.
We decided to use a toy found in many science stores as a model for our investigation,Calandrelli said.The toy contains water and sand in a frame-like structure that can be rotated so you can watch how the sand falls through the water. Our experiment was similar, but instead of water and sand, we used different combinations of fluids (motor oil + silicone, and water + air). Our goal was to analyze how various fluids �€~fingerthrough each other.
It was wonderful to be able to test our experiment in microgravity conditions,Calandrelli said.This is really a great program that allows students to be involved in cutting-edge space research.
Aside from the amazing experience of weightless flight, we also met some very accomplished WVU alumni who work for NASA ,Reiff added.It gave me a lot of pride to learn how excited our alumni were to meet their fellow Mountaineers.
Although she did not get to experience weightlessness, Phillips said the trip was memorable nonetheless.
I did not fly but went to Houston as ground crew for the team,Phillips said,working on the experiment and loading it onto the aircraft, participating in the tours, meeting with WVU alumni who work for NASA and visiting sites in Houston. It was a wonderful experience, and I think more students should get involved with the team.
The NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortiumand the WVU Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineeringprovided funds to help support the teams participation in the program.