Four students from MIT have been chosen by NASA to conduct research while floating aboard the agency's famous "Weightless Wonder" aircraft. The selected students are Ryan Damico (a senior in electrical engineering and computer science), Adam Shabshelowitz (a junior in aeronautical and astronautical engineering), Jeremy Conrad (a junior in mechanical engineering) and freshman Peter Lai.
Each year, the Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston gives undergraduate student teams the opportunity to research, design, fabricate, fly and evaluate a reduced gravity experiment. The student teams follow much the same path as scientists who develop experiments that fly in space.
This year, 50 teams have been selected to test their designs during a roller coaster-like ride that produces brief periods of microgravity, similar to what astronauts experience during spaceflight. A NASA C-9 aircraft, the military version of a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 jet airliner, flies a series of carefully choreographed maneuvers to achieve this effect. Students will experience how the human body reacts during the 30 climbs and freefalls on each flight that create weightlessness 25 seconds at a time.
The MIT team will fly in July 2005 to conduct research on new methods of purifying water in space. The experiment tests the viability of using electric fields to rid water of various types of impurities, a common cause of problems on the space shuttle and International Space Station. Next fall, the team will issue a final report of scientific findings and conclusions.