RIT Students Fly High for Weightless Science Aboard NASA’s ‘Vomit Comet’

Team of RIT students among select group of collegiate teams selected for program

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NASA has selected a team of four students from Rochester Institute of Technology to fly a scientific experiment while achieving weightlessness similar to astronauts in space.

The space agency chose the students to participate in its Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program, which allows undergraduate students to research, design, test, fly and evaluate a reduced gravity experiment.

In April, Alexandra Artusio-Glimpse, Ross Dawson, Eric Evans and Bryan Zaczek, all part of the imaging and photographic technology program in RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, will look at the feasibility of inkjet printing in a microgravity environment.

“We will study the effects of microgravity on ink drops from an inkjet printer,” says Eric Evans, RIT student team leader and a fourth-year imaging and photographic technology major. “Our research will build on the findings of the RIT student team that flew in July 2008. They determined that inkjet printheads can operate in microgravity. Inkjet technologies have been used in applications including circuit board printing, biomedical research and three-dimensional prototyping. High precision drop placement is necessary for these scientific applications and we hope our research will benefit work in such fields.”

Other top universities such as Yale, Purdue and Ohio State will also send up student teams to fly.

The teams perform their experiments during a roller coaster-like ride aboard a modified Boeing 727. Nicknamed the “Vomit Comet,” the plane flies a series of choreographed maneuvers known as parabolas to achieve brief periods of microgravity. Throughout the flight, participants experience approximately 30 “steep hill climbs and freefalls” achieving near-weightlessness 25 seconds at a time. These moments of microgravity are similar to what astronauts experience in spaceflight.

“It is today’s students that will go back to the moon and beyond to live, explore and work,” says Douglas Goforth, Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “This project gives them a head start in preparing for those future ventures by allowing them to conduct hands-on research and engineering in a reduced gravity environment.”

In addition to the student-based research, teams will participate in at least two Digital Learning Network events (videoconferences) to work in conjunction with other NASA and engineering organizations.

For more information about the Reduced Gravity Flight Opportunities Program, visit http://microgravityuniversity.jsc.nasa.gov