Auburn’s Flying Tigers to conduct experiments on NASA’s Weightless Wonder aircraft

AUBURN – The Flying Tigers, a team of six educators from Auburn University, Auburn City Schools and the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative, AMSTI, will arrive at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston July 20 to participate in the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program. As one of only six teams nationwide and the only team from the Southeast to participate in the program, the Flying Tigers will conduct experiments July 25-29 aboard a modified Boeing 727 aircraft known as the Weightless Wonder.

The program gives participants an opportunity to propose, build and fly a reduced gravity experiment during free falls and to gather data in a near-weightless environment. The Weightless Wonder provides weightlessness for 18 to 25 seconds at a time by executing a series of about 30 parabolas – a steep climb followed by a free fall – over the Gulf of Mexico.

“The idea is to carry out a series of experiments on the plane to see what the difference is between what happens on the ground compared to what happens under microgravity conditions,” said Edward Thomas, Flying Tigers team mentor, a professor in Auburn University’s Physics Department and coordinator of the Plasma Sciences Laboratory. “This is a pretty unique experience for me, the teachers in the Auburn School system and the educator from AMSTI.”

Members of the Flying Tigers are Edward Thomas; Elizabeth Bass and George Clausell from Dean Road Elementary School; Jennifer Spencer from Cary Woods Elementary School; Mark Jones from Drake Middle School; and Wayne Strickland from AMSTI.

After the Flying Tigers arrive at the space center’s Ellington Field, where astronauts conduct training, they will go through physiological training in preparation for their experiments. They will focus on the equilibrium and stability of solids and liquids during the microgravity and hypergravity phases of the flight. Following the flight, the team will evaluate findings, draw conclusions and provide the results to NASA.

The team has put many hours into researching and building the experiment they will perform on the Weightless Wonder. On their return, they will share their unique experiences and discoveries with students, other educators and members of the community.

The Flying Tigers team is participating through a partnership of the Auburn Plasma Sciences Laboratory, the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory Science Education Program and NASA’s Reduced Gravity Office. The Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program is made possible through a new partnership between NASA and the Department of Energy.

The flight project grew out of a collaboration of a Department of Energy national laboratory, the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and NASA. Andrew Zwicker, the director of the NASA-DEO flight program, contacted Edward Thomas earlier this year about putting together a team to participate in the project. In addition to the team members from the Auburn City Schools, an educator from AMSTI was included so that what the teachers learned from the experience could be more easily integrated into the AMSTI program, which provides a platform to impact schools not only locally, but regionally as well.

For more information about the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program, go to http://microgravityuniversity.jsc.nasa.gov.

(Contributed by Candis Birchfield.)

Contact: Candis Birchfield, (334) 844-5734 (ceh0012@auburn.edu),
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9996 (chardch@auburn.edu), or
Jennifer Lovvorn, Auburn City Schools, (334) 887-1932 (jlovvorn@auburnschools.org)