A group of University of Missouri-Rolla students are looking to the skies for answers on how to improve construction in space. The eight-member team is one of 50 NASA has selected to conduct reduced-gravity experiments this summer.
This isn’t the first time UMR students have been selected to participate in NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program, a competition that allows undergraduate teams to design and construct an experiment to be conducted in microgravity. In 2003, UMR students boarded the KC-135 aircraft, unofficially known as the "vomit comet," to weld aluminum and study its behavior with a goal of improving the speed of space construction.
This year’s team will seek to improve the reliability of the 2003 experiment aboard NASA’s C-9 aircraft, the military version of a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 jet airliner. The C-9 will fly in parabolic patterns to create a temporary environment of near weightlessness. As passengers on the plane, the UMR students will be accelerated quickly from about 26,000 feet to roughly 39,000 feet, and then free fall with the engines idled back down in a 45-degree arc. The plane’s choreographed maneuvers will create between 40 and 50 periods of weightlessness each flight that will last 25 seconds at a time.
The students are under the direction of Dr. Hank Pernicka, associate professor of aerospace engineering, and Dr. Hai-Lung Tsai, professor of mechanical engineering.