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Physics & Astronomy

2011 Microgravity Team

The Carthage Microgravity Team conducted research for NASA aboard a zero-gravity aircraft in Spring 2011 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.

Led by Carthage physics professor Kevin Crosby and NASA research engineer Rudy Werlink, the students designed and built a method of measuring propellant mass in zero gravity. The experiment investigated a method to measure propellant mass in real time using non-invasive PZT technology. “We used sound waves to determine how much fluid is in a tank,” explained team leader Kimberly Schultz, ’12.

“It's kind of like an extreme roller coaster. In a matter of seconds, you're floating in the middle of the air.” — Stephanie Finnvik ‘12“It's kind of like an extreme roller coaster. In a matter of seconds, you're floating in the middle of the air.” — Stephanie Finnvik ‘12The team traveled to the Johnson Space Center and Ellington Field in Houston March 31-April 9, 2011, to test their fuel gauge aboard the microgravity aircraft G-Force One. G-Force One is a modified Boeing 727 that flies a series of parabolic arcs over the Gulf of Mexico to simulate zero, lunar and Martian gravity.

“It’s a great feeling,” said team member Stephanie Finnvik, ’12, of Brooklyn Park, Minn. “It’s kind of like an extreme roller coaster, because when you go up, you experience 2G, which is like sitting on top of yourself and trying to do a push-up at the same time. And then in a matter of five seconds, you’re floating in the middle of the air.”

This is the fourth consecutive year that Carthage has been selected for the SEED program. In past years, Carthage students have studied lunar dust filtration systems, angles of repose in lunar gravity, and propellant slosh in the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. Carthage was one of nine schools nationwide chosen to participate this year.

The 2011 team members were: Kim Schultz, ’12, of Genoa City, Wis. (team lead); Amber Bakkum, ’12, of Winthrop Harbor, Ill. (team co-lead); KelliAnn Anderson, ’14, of Cumberland, Wis.; Stephanie Finnvik, ’12, of Brooklyn Park, Minn.; Cecilia Grove, ’11, of Walcott, Iowa; Steven Mathe, ’13, of Wauconda, Ill.; Erin Gross, ’12, of Madison, Wis.; and Danielle Weiland, ’14, of Kenosha, Wis.

The students mastered a variety of skills through their work for the SEED program, said Prof. Crosby. “Most importantly they learned to do a thorough engineering analysis. In our physics introductory sequence, they learn all these things, but it’s a bit abstract. Here, for the first time, in a really important and interesting context, they learned to apply these ideas and principles.”

Mr. Werlink said the project was a success. “The result was exactly what we wanted to learn,” he said. “I was very happy that we got our objectives accomplished. When I talk to other people in NASA, I tell them how well this worked out. I didn’t tell Kevin (Crosby) how to do this stuff; I threw out some ideas and he picked it up and got the students to work independently, which really impressed me.

“Some of the teams (in SEED) see the program differently,” he continued. “They have some science basis for what they’re doing, but it’s something simple, and getting a zero-G experience is the whole point. This project was 100 percent not that way. It had real work, real science, real engineering. Even if it didn’t work, I would have been happy that the students tried that hard to make it work. Hopefully the team will apply for the program again next year. I’ll definitely be looking for their proposal.”

Related stories:

Microgravity Team members invited to watch NASA’s final shuttle launch
Read the students’ blog from the trip

 

Friday, April 1
This Year’s Experiment

The SEED program pairs NASA researchers with teams of college students to conduct research important to NASA. In previous years, the Carthage Microgravity Team has studied lunar dust filtration systems, angles of repose under lunar gravity, and propellant slosh in the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle.

This year the team is working with NASA research engineer Rudy Werlink to design, build and test a zero-gravity fuel gauge. Led by Werlink and faculty mentor Kevin Crosby, they have designed a way to measure fuel volume using non-invasive PZT sensors and actuators. “We’re using sound waves to determine how much fluid is in a tank,” said team lead Kim Schultz, ’11, of Genoa City, Wis. More…

 

Monday, April 4
Anti-Motion Sickness Briefing gives tips for feeling good

“Anything that you do up there that’s distracting you from your science is not going to be helpful,” said lead reduced gravity flight test director Dominic Del Rosso, as he kicked off the Anti-Motion Sickness Briefing Monday afternoon. “But the reputation is a lot worse than reality. About 10 percent of first-time flyers get sick.”

Whatever you do, don’t panic. Don’t “swim.” Don’t kick or flail. “That’s not effective at all. More…

 

Monday, April 4
Fitted for Flight

Stephanie Finnvik cannot control her excitement. She doesn’t even try. As the team’s only student who flew last year, she knows exactly what she’s getting into. And she cannot wait.

“I got to fly last year,” says Stephanie, ’12, of Brooklyn Park, Minn. “Today we actually had a little bit of a briefing about flying and I just couldn’t help but think, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really happening again.’ It’s just a great feeling. It’s kind of like an extreme roller coaster because you go up, you experience 2G — which is like sitting on top of yourself and trying to do a push-up at the same time — and then in a matter of five seconds, you’re floating in the middle of the air. One finger pushed against the wall shoots you across to the other. More…

 

Tuesday, April 5
The First Flight

The G-Force One microgravity aircraft took off from Ellington Field in Houston at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 4, carrying three Carthage students and their NASA mentor.

After six days at Ellington — and almost six months of preparation — the students were finally doing what they came to NASA to do: Fly their experiment in zero gravity. Amber Bakkum, Erin Gross and Kim Schultz, along with NASA research engineer Rudy Werlink, flew aboard G-Force One, a zero-gravity aircraft. More…

 

Tuesday, April 5
Meeting NASA Astronaut Clayton Anderson

Carthage students had the opportunity to meet NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson on Tuesday, April 5, a highlight of the 10-day trip in Houston.

Anderson has logged 167 days in space, and spent five months living and working on the International Space Station. On Tuesday, April 5, he spoke to a full room at Ellington Field, telling students in NASA’s Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program what it’s like to do a spacewalk, live in zero gravity, and get re-accustomed to living on Earth. More…

 

Wednesday, April 6
The Second Flight Day

Stephanie Finnvik,’12; Cecilia Grove, ’11; and physics professor Kevin Crosby had their turn in zero gravity on Wednesday, April 6. The members of the Carthage Microgravity Team flew aboard G Force One, taking off from Ellington Field shortly after 9 a.m. Watch two videos from the flight and see pictures. More…

Meet the 2011 team.

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