Students to perform zero-gravity experiments for NASA program


TUSKEGEE, Ala. (November 6, 2013) — Tuskegee University aerospace engineering students have been selected to participate in this year’s NASA Reduced Gravity Education Program. Students involved in the department’s GraviTU program will be a part of NASA’s micro-gravity experimental education program that will take place at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Friday through Nov. 16. 

This will be Tuskegee’s second appearance in the program after first being selected in 2011. GraviTu students selected to participate in the program are: Alejandra Sandoval, Edward C. Moore, Antoine Smith, and Tyrell Yorke. They will be assisted by a faculty adviser as well as a NASA mentor to help guide them through the development stage of their experiment. Their faculty adviser is M. Javed Khan, professor and head of the Aerospace Science Engineering Department; and their NASA mentor will be Narayanan R. Ramachandran. 

After the experiment is developed, students will have the opportunity to fly their experiment in a NASA Zero – G airplane, a specially modified Boeing 727. The pattern under which the plane will fly will create about 30 seconds of hypergravity as the plane reaches the peak of its flight pattern. As the plane begins to transition downward toward Earth, it will begin to create a micro-gravity environment, which will last up to 15-20 seconds. 

The students will face challenges when conducting the experiment. Because the project will be done under a zero-gravity environment, students will be required to strap themselves down in order to stay in place to gather data. They will collect qualitative and quantitative data on the Weissenberg Effect in microgravity. The effect is a phenomenon that occurs when a spinning rod is placed in a non-Newtonian fluid. The fluid is a Silly Putty-like substance that acts like a solid if hit hard enough, and instead of being thrown outward, the liquid is drawn toward the rod and rises around it. 

The GraviTU team will construct an experiment that contains two experimental setups. This involves placing a rod in three separate containers and using a motor to rotate them at a constant speed. Three motors running at different speeds will be used to document the experiment. Students will later take video records and go over the data with their adviser and mentor who will join them on the flight. 

When asked on the importance of such an experience for the students, Khan replied, “This is an excellent opportunity for the aerospace science engineering students to interact with NASA scientists and engineers while working on a realistic research problem. The students learn about team work, the challenges associated with working on a project that needs to be completed with a specified deadline, and satisfying external stakeholders’ requirements.” 

Story by David Nixon, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing

© 2013 Tuskegee University

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