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Students take a virtual field trip into the world of weightlessness

On Dec. 6, more than 20 million students from 46 states and eight countries took a virtual trip to Ellington Field to find out where NASA keeps its “zero-g room.” What they discovered was the world of physics and the Weightless Wonder -- NASA's specially equipped C-9 aircraft that offers brief periods of reduced gravity.

Canadian Space Agency astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason and Ben Calvin from Burris Laboratory School in Muncie, Ind. helped viewers understand the physics of gravity.
Canadian Space Agency astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason and Ben Calvin from Burris Laboratory School in Muncie, Ind. helped viewers understand the physics of gravity.
Ball State University teamed up with Space Center Houston and Johnson Space Center to produce two 90-minute electronic field trips from Hangar 990 to teach students about the physics of gravity.

Throughout the live, interactive broadcasts, entitled “Just where is that zero-g room?” Canadian Space Agency astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason and Ben Calvin, a student from Burris Laboratory School in Muncie, Ind., gave a tour of the terms that would be covered, such as position, distance and centripetal acceleration.

With the help of astronaut Greg Johnson and other Ball State personnel, viewers participated in classroom activities to demonstrate how the C-9 worked. One exercise involved tossing two bean bags together in a parabolic path, much like the C-9, so viewers could predict what passengers on the C-9 would experience.

Heather Paul, a project engineer for the Advanced Extravehicular Activity (AEVA) team, played co-host and piloted viewers through various segments and facilitated questions.

“It’s fun to interact with the audience. I enjoyed taking the phone calls and checking the discussion forum because it’s a way to make sure that people are tuned in and understand the material. You could tell from the details of the students’ questions that they were really engaged, and that’s really exciting,” Paul said.

Questions covered a variety of interests and came from across the country, from Alaska to Illinois to Texas.

Click for larger imager
Anna Lawrence, a student from Monnig Middle School in Fort Worth, Texas, and astronaut Greg Johnson give participants a peek into the Weightless Wonder.
“Why do astronauts become sick?” asked a caller from Pennsylvania. Johnson explained that the discomfort one can feel originates from the vestibular system that helps orient the body.

Other employees sat on the panel of experts, which manned the discussion forum and took questions from callers. Employees included:
  • John Yaniec, NASA’s lead test flight director for the C-9 and program manager for the Reduced Gravity Program
  • Dom Del Rosso, test director for the C-9 and sensor equipment operator on the WB57 Charles Justiz, Shuttle Training Aircraft team lead and senior research pilot
  • Rebecca Cutri-Kohart, flight controller


The students weren’t the only ones to go on an electronic field trip for the first time. For many of the employees who participated, this was a new expedition for them as well.

“Normally, I go speak in classrooms. I’ve never done anything like this,” Cutri-Kohart said of past outreach experiences.

“This electronic field trip was important because many people were confused about zero-gravity. The Weightless Wonder gave us the opportunity to talk real physics and the notion of freefall and weightlessness,” said Mark Kornmann, director of outreach programs at Ball State’s Teachers College.

Visit the Web for more on Ball State University’s Electronic Field Trip “Just Where is that Zero-G Room?” at http://www.bsu.edu/eft

For more on NASA’s Reduced Gravity Flight Opportunities Program on the Web, visit http://microgravityuniversity.jsc.nasa.gov/


Debbie Nguyen
Johnson Space Center, Houston
(281) 244-1334

 
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Updated: 12/20/2005