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Physics & Astronomy

First Flight Day

Tuesday, April 5

The G-Force One microgravity aircraft took off from Ellington Field in Houston at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 5, carrying three Carthage students and their NASA mentor.

After six days at Ellington — and almost six months of preparation — the students were finally doing what they came to NASA to do: Fly their experiment in zero gravity.

Amber Bakkum, Erin Gross and Kim Schultz, along with NASA research engineer Rudy Werlink, flew aboard G-Force One, a zero-gravity aircraft.

“The 0G plane is a specially made Boeing 727,” Amber said. “The plane pulls straight up 10,000 feet, then takes a nosedive. It falls 10,000 feet,” giving the people on the plane approximately 30 seconds of simulated zero gravity.

“Then the pilots will pull back up and this is when we experience a period of hyper-gravity before going back into another 30-second 0G parabola. They fly 16 parabolas, do a 1G turnaround, and then fly another 16 parabolas. Then we land just like any other airplane, get off, hopefully don’t throw up, and go home.”

Pre-Flight Jitters

Before the flight, the three students were both excited and nervous.

“I’m just nervous to see how my body’s going to respond,” Kim said before the flight. “I really hope I don’t get motion sick. To prevent that, we were all asked to keep our heads in line with our body and make sure that our feet don’t go over our head because that really just messes up your brain.

“For the first parabola, they actually told us to just lie down on the ground, maybe just close your eyes and just let the zero gravity take a hold of you. And they said when you opened your eyes when you didn’t feel anything, you’d probably be floating up at the ceiling.”

NASA provides an anti-nausea medication to Reduced Gravity fliers that’s a combination of Scopolamine and Dexedrine. Taking the medication isn’t required, but once students hear the facts, it’s hard to say no: Historically 60 percent of first-time fliers experience significant motion sickness, according to NASA. When students follow instructions from flight personnel (read suggestions) and take the mediation, the motion sickness rate drops to 15 percent or less.

Fliers also stuff the breast pockets of their flight suits with motion sickness bags — at least two, but as many as they’d like. General rule: Take twice as many bags as you think you’ll need. And if you do end up needing one, use both hands. BOTH HANDS.

Flight 1: Successful

None of the students on Carthage’s first team of fliers ended up using their motion sickness bags, and their experiment was a success in the air.

“It was awesome,” Kim said. “When you’re going into the first parabola, you’re in 2G. All of us were laying down on the floor and you’re just ready for it. When I opened my eyes, I was just in the air. Half the time, my feet were above my head. It’s just crazy. I forgot about anything else that was going on. It was awesome.”

Added Erin Gross: “Right before we hit the 2Gs, I was just lying in a Zen state preparing for the awesomeness that was about to come. As soon as 0G hit, you’re just holding on. You’re just floating through the air. Everybody has a huge grin on their faces.”

“It was fantastic,” Kim said. “It’s indescribable, really. I can understand everybody’s excitement about this. I loved it. When they landed, I wanted them to take it right back up again and just do it all day.”

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    • For a full decade, NASA has selected Carthage students to conduct research aboard its zero-gravity aircraft. Lately, the stakes have risen. A team of underclassmen is grinding to prepare a tiny but powerful Earth-imaging satellite for launch to the International Space Station. Learn more about the space sciences at Carthage

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