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Student experience flying on the ‘Vomit Comet’ Research

It was a week ago today that Chris Ubelacker, a fourth-year student in RIT’s imaging and photographic technology program, flew aboard NASA’s Vomit Comet.

RIT’s team of four: Chris, James Craven, Greg Sharp and Jarret Whetstone headed to NASA’s Johnson Space Center on July 10 for a week of training and preparation for their flights. The flights on the C-9 took them up two-by-two with Chris and James going up on Thursday (Chris is in the top photo). James (left) is pictured in the center photo.

It was wheels up for Jarret and Greg on Friday (pictured from left to right in the bottom photo).

Chris describes his experience below:

The physiological training we went through in the days prior to our flight was the first real taste of unique NASA experiences. Our team climbed into this giant chamber, and they proceeded to change the partial pressure of gases until they resembled that of 25,000 feet. Basically that means that there was less oxygen then what the brain needs and is used to. The slow onset of the effects makes you feel like something is not right. You start to just lose concentration, which is the big concern and why people train this way.

The flight aboard the Vomit Comet was like nothing I have ever felt before. It is truly something you have to experience to even understand. It is very disorienting because your eyes see that you are oriented normally in a plane, up is up and down is down. Wrong! Your mind is moving at a mile a minute trying to figure out your direction. The best thing you can do is buckle down, run your tests and hold on. Words cannot describe the experience!

The research we conducted was the characterization of ink jet printers in a microgravity environment. There are two major technologies, piezo-electric and thermal. Each have their own unique properties, so we set out to gather visual and numerical data that would represent their functionality. The first test was to use a high-speed digital camera and capture the properties of the ink drops being ejected at high magnification. The second part of the experiment was to use the same printer to print specialty test targets that could show the effectiveness of the printer.

It was totally worth the countless hours over many months prior to arriving in Houston. The work that goes into a project like this is extensive and rather daunting, but when you leave the floor of the plane for the first time it instantly becomes worth it. Also, as a friendly piece of advice, you will always miss or overlook something when running your own tests and experiments. I swear my team and I had everything secured and on the third parabola, the printer tray went floating away. Yeah, didn’t see that coming!


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