Skip to main content

Physics & Astronomy

2010 Microgravity Team

What would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people has become an annual tradition for a team of Carthage students.

On April 7, the Carthage Microgravity Team traveled to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for the third straight year. While there, they boarded NASA’s Weightless Wonder microgravity aircraft. The plane flew a series of rollercoaster-like dips and climbs to simulate zero gravity, lunar gravity and Martian gravity — and the Carthage students floated around the plane as if they were in space.

“It’s not really an experience that everyone gets to have, feeling lunar gravity or zero gravity,” said Microgravity Team leader Samantha Kreppel, ’10. She is one of several students who made a repeat visit to the space center. “I don’t think there’s one person on that plane who isn’t smiling once we get up there.”

The team traveled to the Johnson Space Center as part of NASA’s Systems Engineering Educational Discovery program. SEED pairs NASA researchers with undergraduate student teams to design, build and conduct experiments essential to NASA goals. Selected teams spend 10 days at the Johnson Space Center, touring the facility, working on their projects, and meeting NASA astronauts and scientists. The highlight of the trip happens 24,000 to 34,000 feet in the air, as students conduct their experiments aboard NASA’s “Vomit Comet.”

An Elite Group

The Carthage Microgravity Team was one of 13 teams nationwide selected to participate in SEED this year. They were joined by teams from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Washington University, Yale University, the University of Wisconsin, Auburn University, Ohio State University, the University of Nebraska, the University of Toledo, the University of Kentucky, the University of Colorado, and Boise State University, which sent two teams to Houston.

“We were extremely excited to get into the program again,” said Samantha, a physics major from McHenry, Ill. “We have a really interesting project this year. … The last couple of years, we’ve conducted our experiments in lunar gravity. This year, our project is zero gravity.” During their flights, the Weightless Wonder flew 28 zero-gravity parabolas, three lunar gravity parabolas, and one Martian gravity parabola.

“That means a little more floating, a little less bouncing,” said team member Isa Fritz, ’10, a physics major from Kenosha. This was her third flight on the Weightless Wonder. “It’s definitely something I’ll miss next year.” Meet the 2010 team.

The Experiment: Fluid Dynamics in Microgravity

In the SEED program, student teams tackle problems suggested by NASA. “They give us a proposal and we have to design the project,” Samantha said. This year, the Carthage team conducted an experiment to determine how propellant behaves in microgravity aboard the Orion, a new crew exploration vehicle being developed by Lockheed Martin.

Students Kim Schultz and Samantha Kreppel work to construct their scaled model of an Orion propellant tank.Students Kim Schultz and Samantha Kreppel work to construct their scaled model of an Orion propellant tank.Orion has a two-part return vehicle that includes a crew module and service module. “The service module has giant tanks in it that contain all of the life support gases and liquids, as well as propellant and oxidizer for return from the moon,” said Carthage physics professor Kevin Crosby, advisor to the Microgravity Team. “We built a scale model of one of these service module tanks to assess its behavior under microgravity when it’s at various levels of propellant. The fuel in microgravity sloshes around in strange ways that can be destabilizing to the spacecraft. We’ve lost spacecraft due to propellant slosh.”

The future of Orion is uncertain, as funding for NASA’s Constellation program is not included in President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget. But even if the Constellation Program does not continue, “a lot of the technology that has been developed for it will find its way into commercial spacecraft,” Prof. Crosby said. 

The team had to design and construct a scaled model of the Orion tank, find a liquid with the same properties as Orion’s propellant, and construct a secondary container for that liquid. They began work to build the experiment since January, including a week of full-time work over Spring Break.

Worth the Effort

It’s a lot of pressure, students said, but the rewards are definitely worth the additional work.

“It’s nice to be able to see physics in the classroom, and then apply it now,” said first-time Microgravity Team member Katelyn Hartstern, ’10, of Kenosha, who is majoring in chemistry and minoring in physics. “I’m amazed that we get this opportunity three years running. I’m very proud of Carthage. Clearly we’re doing something right here.”

The only chemistry major on the team, Katelyn used her chemistry background to determine the best liquid to use in the project. She also had an opportunity to fly for the first time. “I’m super-excited that I get to float around,” she said before the trip. “As far as my career, this adds to the diversity of my experience. It’s analytical thinking and it shows you how to work as a group, which is important in whatever field you’re in.”

First-time team member Kim Schultz, ’12, of Genoa City, Wis., has heard about previous NASA trips, and was thrilled to be involved this year. While she didn’t fly aboard the Weightless Wonder, she did travel to the Johnson Space Center, tour the facility, and have the experience of working with NASA scientists. “I’m most excited to see the neutral buoyancy lab, where they do training and work on International Space Station parts,” she said before the trip. 

Students also gain experience in systems engineering, project management, and meeting customer expectations. This year, the team worked with an engineer with Lockheed Martin.

“It’s the first time they are working for an external customer that has real deadlines, and in a situation in which not succeeding has real consequences other than grades,” Prof. Crosby said. “So in that sense, it’s the good kind of pressure. It’s where what you’re doing really matters to somebody other than yourself or your professor.”

  • Quick Facts

    • Carthage is named a Best Midwestern College by The Princeton Review (2017), a designation given to only 25 percent of four-year schools.

    • Scheduled to open in fall 2018, a new residential tower will offer suite-style housing and two floors of shared campus spaces for gaming, cooking, group meetings, or quiet studying. Learn more about The Tower

    • You’re going to need brain fuel. Grab a morning coffee and a snack and Starbucks or Einstein Bros. Bagels. Later, meet friends at “The Caf,” where the specials change daily but the staples are constant, or swing through “The Stu” for wins, a burrito, or a sub. A new option, Carthage Cash, even covers some off-campus meals.

    • 96% of Carthage alumni report that they have secured a job or are continuing their studies six months after graduation. Visit Career Services.

    • 91% of employers say critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills matter more than your major when it comes to career success. Learn more about how the liberal arts prepare you for a successful career.

    • Lots of schools wear the four-year label. Carthage stands behind it. 95% of Carthage graduates earn their degrees in four years. Learn more

    • Computer science students watch Prof. Mark Mahoney’s recorded lecturers in their free time, so he can nearby “when they do their real learning,” he says. He has company: Physics professor Brant Carlson’s quantum mechanics video playlist has been viewed more than 170,000 times. 

    • Oscars. Emmys. Tonys. Golden Globes. The playwrights we’ve brought in have them. Each year, the Carthage Theatre Department commissions an original script by a renowned playwright for its New Play Initiative. Carthage students then work with the writer to stage it. 

    • As a freshman in the highly selective Honors Program, learn how to gain expertise in anything from music to forest ecology. After that, tackle a contemporary social, economic, or political problem. If you like, you can live on an Honors-only floor of a Carthage residence hall. 

    • In 2016 and 2017, Carthage was named a top producer of Fulbright Scholars by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

    • Things look new at Carthage because they are. Our athletic and recreation center, student union, computer labs, audiovisual production suite, and numerous residence halls have all been constructed or newly renovated in the last 10 years. Our new science center caps it off.

    • Carthage offers majors, minors and concentrations in more than 50 areas of study, from archaeology to athletic training, neuroscience to music theatre.

    • Our Summer Undergraduate Research Experience offers select students a research budget, one-on-one mentoring with a professor, and 10 weeks of analyzing, deciphering — and getting paid.

    • So the lake is kind of a focal point, but there’s a lot more to love about our campus — like the fact that our 80-acre campus is also an arboretum and wildlife sanctuary. Focused on keeping campus lush forever, we plant between 50 and 75 new trees every year from a variety of species.

    • Carthage was founded in 1847. That’s more than 170 years of leaders, makers, and go-getters going out and going forth. Read more about Carthage’s rich history.

    • More than 90 percent of our students receive financial aid, a hefty chunk of which is scholarships and grants — including $1.25 million annually from the Presidential Scholarship Competition and numerous Merit Scholarships. Learn what’s available.

    • Abraham Lincoln was an early Trustee of the College, and U.S. Secretary of State John Hay was a Carthage alum. The two still have a proud place on our campus. Spend some time with them in our Sesquicentennial Plaza. On warm days you’ll find professors leading their classes here.

    • Come to Carthage; hear yourself think — think … think …
      Legend has it that Sesquicentennial Plaza holds a perfect echo. Just stand with both your feet on the “1847,” face Straz, and start talking. “You’re the only one who can hear you, but you’ll be crystal clear,” promises English and theatre alumna Mikaley Osley.

    • Our Great Lake provides Carthage students with some amazing views. Think classes on the beach, lake views from the lab, and sunrises from your dorm room. “I love waking up in the morning with the sun shining off the lake. Nothing compares to the view in the morning,” says biology and neuroscience major Ann O’Leary.

    • Carthage awards up to 30 Presidential Scholarships each year, which range from 75% tuition up to full tuition, room, and board. Learn more.

    • 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

    • Carthage is the only college or university in the Midwest where every freshman takes a full-year sequence of foundational texts of the Western intellectual tradition. Learn about the Carthage core.

    • With a student-faculty ratio of 12:1, your professors will know who you are. They will also know who you want to be — and how to get you there. Meet our faculty.

    • There are more than 120 student organizations on campus, from Amnesty International to Chemistry Club, to Frisbee and Latin Belly Dancing. See how easy it is to get involved.

    • True story: There are more than 27 art galleries, a dozen museums, and nine theatres within 25 miles of Carthage. Some highlights: The nationally recognized Racine Art Museum, the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago, and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Learn more about our location.

    • What’s better than one professor? Two professors. What’s better than two professors? Two professors from totally different fields teaching a single class. There’s debate. Discussion. Differing perspectives. This is where the magic happens. That’s why every student takes a Carthage Symposium.

    • Imagine presenting your original research at an international conference — as an undergraduate. Carthage is dedicated to undergraduate research. Learn more about current opportunities.

    • You can’t hide here — not with only 17 other students in the classroom with you. That’s going to be rough some mornings. But later, when you’re able to argue your point of view thoughtfully, express your opinions succinctly, and meet challenges head-on, without fear … Yep, you’ll thank us.

    • Carthage is ranked No. 11 in the country for student participation in short-term study abroad. Every J-Term, hundreds of students travel all over the world on faculty-led study tours. Imagine a month in Sweden, Rome, Cuba, Senegal, India, Japan …

    Previous
    Next