Students experience 'weightlessness' during NASA summer program

Published: Aug. 22, 2012

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be weightless? CU undergraduates Mike Lotto, Andrew Broucek, Kirstyn Johnson, Chris Nie, Kyle Shannon and Jared Yenzer got to experience the feeling for the first time July 19-20 when their team flew an experiment on NASA’s reduced gravity aircraft. The CU team, which included students from aerospace and electrical engineering, was one of 18 teams selected to go to Houston for this year’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program.

“It was crazy, my mind didn’t know what to do at first,” said Johnson, adding that after the aircraft completed its first couple of parabolas -- the flight pattern that produces microgravity -- the students were able to adjust and conduct their experiment.

Developed with the help of faculty advisor Dave Klaus, the students studied convective heat transfer in space using two copper plates suspended in a pressure cooker. Johnson, an aerospace engineering sciences student who is also doing a co-op internship at Johnson Space Center, said the opportunity to develop a complete experiment, conduct it and get the results was really rewarding.

Nie, also an aerospace engineering sciences major, agreed. "This project was an amazing way to pursue our interests outside of the classroom and get some hands-on experience," he said. "The Microgravity University is good about requiring the students to participate in the entire engineering process, from initial concepts, to project requirements, to actual building and testing the experiment. We're now in the process of writing a final science report to share our results. The past year has been an unforgettable experience and the flight was unbelievable. It's something that everyone should try and do."

While getting hands-on engineering experience was a goal of all the participating students, experiencing weightlessness was pretty cool too.

"The Reduced Gravity Program with NASA was something I wanted to do very badly ever since I first heard about the opportunity, which was the first day of college orientation," said Shannon. "Exeperiencing weightlessness was literally a dream come true."