Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hello! My name is Allison Stalker and I graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire in May. I am currently searching for my first teaching job. Along with graduating in May, I also found out that I was accepted to participate in NASA's Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program (RGEFP). In July, I will have the opportunity to go on NASA's Weightless Wonder! Some of you might know the Weightless Wonder by another name such as the Vomit Comet. I will be blogging about my experience with this program before, during and after this exciting week.

The Weightless Wonder is an airplane that flies in parabolas (see picture below). As the airplane is ascending I will feel 1.8 g which they call dirty air. Once I reach the top of the parabola, I will feel zero-g or weightless. I will be free falling at this point and feel what the astronauts feel when they are on the International Space Station! As the plane descends, I will feel 1.8 g again. This pattern will be repeated 30 times. Each time I am at the top of the parabola, I will feel weightless for 15-25 seconds! I know some of you are thinking I am crazy for wanting to do this but this is definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. While I am on the Weightless Wonder, I will be conducting an experiment to see the experiment in different in 1 g versus zero-g.

Some of you are probably wondering how I got accepted to be a part of this program. Last summer, I participated in NASA's Pre-Service Teacher Institute (PSTI) at Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. In this program, they showed us everything that NASA has to offer to help teachers out. They have so many lesson plans, podcasts, activities, videos, etc. for teachers to use for FREE! Along with all of these great ideas for us to use, they took us on a tour to see Mission Control Center, the Neural Buoyancy Laboratory, and the building that has full size models of the space shuttles. Needless to say, I learned a lot last summer and had a wonderful experience.

Since I participated in the PSTI program last summer, I was eligible for NASA's RGEFP. I filled out the application and found out a week later that I was accepted into the program! After being accepted into the program a few things have occurred.

One of the things that has happened since being accepted is having video conferences with my team. My team consists of four other educators who were selected by NASA, a program coordinator, and a team lead. At these meetings, we have discussed the different experiments that we will be conducting. I will go into more detail on the experiments at a later time.

Another thing that happened on June 1st is we had a Digital Learning Network (DLN) set up between NASA in Houston, TX and the elementary school that I was student teaching at. At this DLN, NASA explained to students what microgravity is how it affects the way things work. The students were so engaged during this and learned so much. They also got a better idea of what I will be doing this summer. I think there favorite part about the whole thing is at the very end when they could ask questions. We found out what astronauts eat and how they go to the bathroom!

Currently, I am working on writing lesson plans for the experiments that I will be conducting in Houston this summer. With these lesson plans, I am going to bring them back to my classroom, and university to share with everyone!

Experiment Details

Here is some more information on the experiments that we will be conducting on the Weightless Wonder.There are technically three experiments that we will be conducting. The three experiment topics include inertial balance, projectile, and an outreach item. When I am down in Houston, my team will be split into two. One team will do the inertial balance experiment when they are on the Weightless Wonder and the other team will do the projectile experiment when they are on the Weightless Wonder. Everyone will do the outreach item.

In more detail, the purpose for the inertial balance experiment is to demonstrate the difference between mass and weight. We will be using different known masses and timing how long it takes each mass to oscillate a certain amount of times. Once we have collected our data for the known masses, we will collect data for objects that have an unknown mass. We will used our results from the experiment to calculate the masses of the unknown objects.
For the projectile experiment, spring launchers will be  used to launch ball bearings. We will record the distance that the ball bearings travel in hypergravity. We will be testing ball bearings that have different masses. We will use the data collected to calculate the masses of the ball bearings.

The outreach item is where every team member (there are 5 of us) gets to bring an object on board the Weightless Wonder. The object needs to be small enough so it can fit inside a pocket that is on the jumpsuit that we wear in the Weightless Wonder. Some ideas that have been given to me to take on board is a pen to see if it will still write in zero-g and Nickelodeon Gak. This is a really neat way to get our students involved and interested. I would also like to know if any of you have any ideas of an object that I could take on board. If I can figure out how to put a poll on here, please let me know what your ideas are!