Thursday, March 31 — 1300 hours
By the time SEED program manager Douglas Goforth calls out “Carthage College” during roll call Thursday afternoon, the eight members of the Carthage Microgravity Team are ready to holler. Their “Here!” rings out across Hangar 990 at Ellington Field, where the nine college teams selected for the 2011 SEED program have assembled.
For the students, announcing their presence at NASA marks the start of a week they’ve been working toward for six months. The team began their work for the SEED program in October, and spent most of January and February designing and constructing their experiment.
“We were working nights, every day after school, all weekend when no one was there,” says Danielle Weiland, ’14, from Kenosha, Wis. “We spent a lot of time without seeing sunlight.”
Now, after all that hard work, the team is finally seeing some sun. In Houston, the temperature’s dancing between 70 and 85 degrees. The students are also having the experience of a lifetime.
Ten days at NASA
For the next week, the teams will spend every business day in Hangar 990, preparing their experiments for flight. They’ll also have the opportunity to tour NASA facilities, meet NASA astronauts and scientists, and fly aboard G-Force One, aka the “Weightless Wonder” microgravity aircraft.
“You are encouraged to take advantage of every opportunity while you are here,” says Goforth, co-director of NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program for the NASA Johnson Space Center. Talk to crew members. Ask questions of the people working in the hangar.
And of course, follow the rules.
There are many of them. Hangar 990 is a secured, active flight operations facility. Students must wear their NASA badges at all times and stay within the roped perimeter. All loose items — from tools to pencils to clothing to jewelry — must be secured and accounted for to prevent Foreign Object Damage (FOD), as even small articles can enter intakes and destroy jet engines. All liquids and materials must be clearly labeled, including water. Teams must keep a written inventory and know the location of all tools and other items at all times.
‘Just like any other NASA employee’
Break a rule, and that’s a strike against your team. Get two strikes, and your entire team is grounded, Goforth says. “During the flight week, you’ll be treated exactly like the researchers at NASA.”
“We have to follow any protocols and guidelines that any other NASA employee would have to follow,” says Stephanie Finnvik, ’12. “We’re just like any other NASA employee.”
“It means we’re accountable for everything we do, as well, just as much as a NASA engineer would be,” adds Erin Gross, ’12. “So that’s a lot of pressure. But it’s really exciting at the same time.”