11 April 1999

Floating around with NASA

Throughout April 1999, NASA will fly 20 teams of Texas high school students in the "Texas Fly High", a program providing an excellent educational opportunity for students to fly with their zero-gravity experiments aboard NASA's reduced gravity aircraft.

The Texas Fly High, introduced in 1998, is part of the Reduced-Gravity Program operated by the NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas. While at JSC, students will attend pre-flight training sessions, tours of facilities, and presentations by astronauts, as well as fly with their experiments aboard the "K-bird."

The JSC Reduced-Gravity Program was started in 1959 to investigate human and hardware reactions to operating in a weightless environment. The reduced-gravity environment is obtained with the specially modified transport aircraft that flies parabolic arcs to produce weightless periods of 20 to 25 seconds.

The KC-1 35A cargo bay test area is approximately 60 feet (18 m) long, 10 feet (3 m) wide, and 7 (2 m) feet high. The aircraft is equipped with electrical power, an overboard vent system, and photographic lights. Air and nitrogen sources are also available.

A typical mission is 2 to 3 hours long and consists of 30 to 40 parabolas. These parabolas can be flown in succession or with short breaks between maneuvers to reconfigure test equipment. The Reduced-Gravity Office provides scheduling, test coordination, and in-flight direction for the test programs.

Prior to the trip to Houston, students will work directly with a Team Mentor. A Team Mentor is a professional NASA scientist or engineer who will guide the students as they choose and learn to operate a zero gravity experiment of their own design or made available by NASA. Each Team Mentor will fly once with his or her student team, as will each team's supervising teacher and team journalist.