Five students will blast off into simulated space in March when Wesleyan’s Zero Gravity Research Team performs a series of tests in a completely gravity– free environment using a mockup of the fire extinguishers NASA has stocked in the International Space Station. The team—composed of Jeff Berko ’03, Catharine Wu ’03, Laura Raducha–Grace ’03, Lex Kravitz ’01, and team leader Ian Garrick–Bethell ’02—is taking part in the NASA–sponsored Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program.
Over a two–day period members of the team will do 60 turns on the “Vomit Comet,” a Boeing KC–135A aircraft which flies in parabolic arcs to simulate the experience of weightlessness, and will experiment with different scenarios using the simulated extinguisher. They will try to discover if the equipment will work correctly with all body types in a variety of positions in zero gravity.
Following the flights out of Houston, Texas, they will work with adviser Fred Ellis, professor of physics, to create a video that they will offer to NASA and the Johnson Space Center. They also intend to determine if aiming errors caused by a lack of gravity would prevent astronauts from extinguishing fires and to suggest, if needed, amendments to the user warning label on the extinguisher.
The Wesleyan group is the first team to be selected from Connecticut. Ninetyfive other teams, most from technical or research universities, also will participate in the program this year. Follow the team’s efforts in cyberspace at www.wesleyan. edu/physics/zerog/.