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Carthage students test promising research with NASA

  • Eli Favela '14 flies aboard the Weightless Wonder, a NASA zero-gravity plane, during the Systems Engineering Educational D...
    Eli Favela '14 flies aboard the Weightless Wonder, a NASA zero-gravity plane, during the Systems Engineering Educational Discovery program in July 2013 in Houston.
    Photo courtesy of NASA
September 03, 2013

Members of the Carthage Microgravity Team fly on the Weightless Wonder, NASA's zero-gravity plane, at the Johnson Space Center on July 31, 2013. From left: Kevin Lubick ‘13, Professor Kevin Crosby, Eli Favela ‘14, John Robinson ‘13. They were joined by NASA Astronaut Clayton Anderson (in blue). Two other Carthage team members flew the previous day.Members of the Carthage Microgravity Team fly on the Weightless Wonder, NASA's zero-gravity plane, at the Johnson Space Center on July 31, 2013. From left: Kevin Lubick ‘13, Professor Kevin Crosby, Eli Favela ‘14, John Robinson ‘13. They were joined by NASA Astronaut Clayton Anderson (in blue). Two other Carthage team members flew the previous day.

Spacecraft cooling experiment will be flown again

Drawn to Carthage by its ongoing involvement in a NASA research program, Daisy Bower ’16 found the reality topped the anticipation.

Shortly after her freshman year ended, Daisy joined the Carthage Microgravity Team.  She completed the summer by joining the eight-member team in Houston for the Systems Engineering Educational Discovery (SEED) program July 25-Aug. 3.

“All of my friends back home can’t believe the opportunities I’ve had in just my first year of school,” said Daisy, a physics and mathematics major from Taylor Ridge, Ill. “It’s ingrained in everyone’s head that out-of-this-world projects can only be handed to the upperclassmen because they’re more advanced or more experienced.”

Carthage is one of only two institutions chosen to participate in SEED each of the six years since the program’s inception. For this year’s experiment, the Carthage team worked with NASA scientists to design and test a method of removing gas from a liquid coolant under investigation for use on future spacecraft.

Daisy dove in midstream, helping to tie up loose ends and working on the group’s spacecraft cooling experiment as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience at Carthage. By then, her teammates already had tallied about 100 hours collectively and dozens more individually on the project.

At the Johnson Space Center in Houston, the Carthage students and recent graduates met engineers, crew members, scientists and astronauts from NASA and joined counterparts from MIT and Yale in a private tour of a Lockheed Martin facility where mission simulations for the Orion spacecraft are performed. But the highlights, as always, were twin flights on the Weightless Wonder.

Steven Mathe '13 leads the Test Readiness Review as the Carthage Microgravity Team's experiment passes a NASA safety inspection during the Systems Engineering Educational Discovery program in July 2013 in Houston.Steven Mathe '13 leads the Test Readiness Review as the Carthage Microgravity Team's experiment passes a NASA safety inspection during the Systems Engineering Educational Discovery program in July 2013 in Houston.During each of the two flights, the aircraft did 64 parabolas — sequences of climbs and free-falls — that allowed students to float in zero gravity and to test their experiments. Physics professor Kevin Crosby, the Carthage Microgravity Team advisor, said preliminary results indicate the Carthage team’s de-gassing method wasn’t affected by the absence of gravity. If it proves viable, the technology would increase safety and reliability of future spacecraft cooling systems.

Read more about the experiment

Before the experiment could fly, it had to pass a safety inspection by NASA safety engineers and crew. After the Carthage team passed what’s known as the Test Readiness Review — led for the second year by Steven Mathe ’13 — it was loaded onto the modified Boeing 727. That was the welcome reward for spending day and night since the beginning of December honing their research.

“Having all of that come together into a working experiment that was approved by NASA was something to be proud of,” said Eli Favela ’14, a physics and mathematics major from Palatine, Ill.

Eli was among five student members of the Carthage team who got to fly. He likened the sensation to riding a roller coaster, scuba diving, or dreaming of falling. In fact, that feeling returned as he lay in bed later that night, an effect experienced team members refer to as a “free parabola.”

Joining the teams on that flight were two esteemed observers: retired astronauts Clayton Anderson and Dr. Scott Parazynski. Mr. Anderson, whose missions included a five-month stint on the International Space Station, emphasized the need to view the space program in light of the long-term payoff in technology. The talk left an impression on Eli, who sees similar value in the SEED program.

“It’s a very rewarding program, both for the experience the undergrads get and the research that happens,” he said. “All of the projects benefit NASA and science at large.”

As her role on the microgravity team increases, Daisy hopes to be able to fly in future years. The 10-day program exceeded her expectations, especially the hands-on facility tours and behind-the-scenes access to NASA departments.

The chance to participate in such powerful research early in her college career has made Daisy the envy of her friends in similar fields at larger institutions.

“Even though they are going to state schools and specific math/science colleges, they are appalled that not only does little Carthage have this program, but so many students, of all classes, get to be involved,” she said. “State schools just have too much competition for only three or four positions, which limits the students in what they can achieve on their own, outside the classroom.”

Despite being involved for only three months before traveling to Houston, Daisy believes her work with the microgravity team already has bolstered her skill set.

“It amazed me how much I learned in such a short amount of time, and how much of it is directly applicable to future courses and even on into my future career,” she said. “I learned little pieces of chemistry, math, physics, and computer software from my fellow students and Dr. Crosby and through research and trial and error on my own.”

Team members have given talks at area middle schools, and four of them participated in the Wisconsin Space Conference on Aug. 15-16 at Marquette University. Team leader Danielle Weiland ’14 presented the team’s research at the event, where she also was recognized for a scholarship she received through the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium.

“Everyone had their responsibilities, which allowed us to efficiently accomplish everything,” she said. “I think everyone played a huge role on the team, and it was probably one of the strongest teams I have ever been part of.”

Prof. Crosby praised the team members for their hard work and noted that they jelled fairly quickly. Swapping knowledge with counterparts from other renowned engineering programs and NASA professionals has led some students to pursue a career in aerospace.

“Being around bright, educated students with scientists who are on the forefront of spaceflight is exciting and potentially life-changing for the right student,” Prof. Crosby said.

Promising data mean the research continues. The Carthage team’s project, part of a larger Flow Boiling and Condensation Experiment that is scheduled for flight on the space station in 2017, will be tested again on a flight in September.

Meet the team

Danielle Weiland ’14, a physics major from Kenosha

Eli Favela ’14, a mathematics and physics major from Palatine, Ill.

Amelia Gear ’15, a physics and studio art major from South Milwaukee

Kevin Lubick ’13, a computer science major from DeForest, Wis.

Steven Mathe ’13, a chemistry major from Wauconda, Ill.

John Robinson ’13, a mathematics and physics major from Kenosha

Seth Schofield ’14, a physics major from Kenosha

Daisy Bower ’16, a physics and mathematics major from Taylor Ridge, Ill.

Faculty advisor: Physics professor Kevin Crosby