Monday, April 6, 2009

Videos from the Flight

Here are some videos that were taken on the first flight day using an HD Flip cam. Use the YouTube player to scroll through the videos.

For better quality, click the HD button on the bottom right of the player.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Special Thanks

Now that the trip is pretty much over, I would like to take this time to thank the many people who made this project a success.

Aerotech for donation of the DC motor.
Idaho Air National Guard for the flight physicals.
Boise State University's Office of Sponsored Programs: Mark Rudin for the start-up funds and Lisa Williams for facilitating funding.
Idaho Space Grant Consortium for the travel funds.

The ground crew:
Matt McCrink for all his hard work on the mechanical arm and box as well as the support at Ellington Field. We couldn't have built this in time without him.
Bob Davidson for his mad driving skills and making sure we were on time to Ellington Field and JSC. Also for his comic relief when things got tense.
Jeff Perkins for engineering the foam that covered the sharp edges of the box and helped us pass the TRR.
Kyle Knori for being our alternate flyer and for his help with the emergency stop button. I'm glad he got to fly with the Nebraska team.
Travis Dean for helping with one of the most critical parts of the experiment, the SLA wheels.
Jake Foresberg for helping out in Boise with the logo design and the emergency stop button.
Jason Griswold, who couldn't make it due to last minute circumstance. He was missed.

The Reduced Gravity Office at Ellington Field:
Sara Malloy for her support during the past two and a half months as we were learning the ins and outs of the Microgravity Program.
Doug Goforth for managing the program with intensity and humor and reminding us to make a memory.
Dominic Del Rosso for being an inspiration on the ground and in the air and for sharing so much of his time with a bunch of rookies.
Rose Aquilina for sizing us up perfectly and making sure we were always standing on the right side of the line.
Veronica Seyl and Alissa Keil for being endless sources of information, especially about educational and professional opportunities with NASA.
Terry Lee for asking challenging questions during the TRR and helping our flights run smoothly.

The staff of Johnson Space Center:
Pedro H. Curiel for being our mentor and sticking with us over the last few months. His guidance was a crucial piece of the puzzle, and he flew and handled the experiment like a pro.
Luis Ramirez for getting us inside JSC's nerve center and putting the gravity of mission support in perspective.
Danny Carraho for giving us a tour of the ARED and lunar habitation mockups, and for expressing what it means to be a part of pushing human frontiers.
Amit Kshatriya for letting us drive "Dexter" and get up close and personal with some of the most exciting R&D on the JSC compound.
Mason Markee for giving us a demo of the ultimate off-road vehicle.
Everyone involved in training us for flight and giving us an inside look at JSC -- one of the most amazing concentrations of human achievement in the world.

Ad Astra Rocket Company:
Ben Longmier for the mind-expanding presentation on plasma thrusters and Lucia for setting up the tour.

Boise State University:
College of Engineering: To Dean Cheryl Schrader and her entire office (Kim, Andy, Jean), Margaret Scott, Michele Armstrong, Leandra Aburusa, Pat Pyke and Don Plumlee. We couldn't have done it without your support.
Office of Communications and Marketing: Frank Zang, for the banner that went with us on the G-FORCE ONE. Mike Journee for being a nimble facilitator of all media outreach during the trip.

Homewood Suites Houston:
To the entire staff for feeding us (cookies!!!) and making us feel at home in an unfamiliar city.

And a very special thanks to Barbara Morgan who has been with us from the introduction of Microgravity at Boise State to actually flying with us on G-FORCE ONE. Barbara has been an inspiration to us all and every student who she talked to this week.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Space Between

While the team put a lot of hard work into their time in Houston, there was plenty of fun to be had during downtime. Tonight, we celebrated the end of the project with a little sushi, including the NASA roll (pictured with Alex and Dan).

Earlier today, Jeff channeled his inner flight director in one of JSC's mission control rooms.

Last week at a toy store in the Denver airport, Dan communed with the wildlife.

And before one of the flight days, the crew prepped for zero-G by watching "Top Gun" (and singing along with Kenny Loggins).

Saturday morning, part of the group is participating in the Yuri's Day fun run (named for Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space), followed by some furious packing for a commercial flight that won't be pulling extra Gs. It will be strange to be back in Boise, but there will be so many great stories to tell ...

More from JSC

As a parting gift, Pedro introduced us to several of his friends who work at JSC, and they gave us even more insider tours. We started with Luis Ramirez, who works in the data processing discipline of the shuttle program's Mission Control Center. So the room we could only see from behind glass yesterday? Yup. We were in there.

Luis talked us through a simulation of a shuttle landing that his colleagues were supporting from their consoles. He said the shuttle's systems are divided up (main engines, propulsion, trajectory, electronics, fuel cells, life support, etc.), and teams of people are assigned to specific disciplines. They are trained to know their systems absolutely and must be able to anticipate and mitigate problems on the fly and under stress.

"The best simulations are the ones where you end up saying, 'That was tough. My brain hurts.' " Luis laughed. "Because you either learn a valuable lesson that you'll probably never make again, or you feel really proud of what you've accomplished."

One proud thing Luis helped us accomplish was revisiting the historic Apollo MCC, where we were able to get close to actual paperwork from the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Heady stuff.   

Then we met up with Danny Carraho. He worked for years on the electronic components of the ARED (Advanced Resistance Exercise Device), which currently is keeping astronauts fit on the International Space Station. Sandra Magnus, who came down last week after 134 days, used the ARED for several months and said she was in great shape. Having seen it go from concept to reality, Danny said watching it be used for the first time was "very scary."

"It's like watching your kid ride a bike for the first time," he said.

Danny is now focusing on the inner-workings of lunar habitation mock-ups, and we were able to check out several concepts. While the return to the moon won't happen for many years, Danny said the wait doesn't dull the excitement of the job.

"I still feel like I just started. I feel like I'm doing something good here. Nobody else does this in the world," he said. "I don't have trouble coming to work everyday." 

We left Danny for another mock-up facility where some of the students got to operate a powerful robotic arm nicknamed Dexter. We also got to see a lunar rover prototype called the Chariot that is part of NASA's plan to return to the moon in 2020. Engineer Mason Markee explained that he and his colleagues try to buy whatever they can off the shelf, so the tires are not custom. But each wheel module has its own axis and suspension, making the Chariot the "ultimate off-road vehicle."

"Inside it's a smooth ride while it's going over really rough terrain," Mason said. "You can't even follow it with a truck."

The photo below features Mason kicking a tire. Apparently, NASA engineers do that too.

The last tour of the day was of the Ad Astra Rocket Company, its enormous vacuum chamber and VASIMR, or Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket. Plasma physicist Ben Longmier explained that plasma thrusters have a lot of potential when it comes to space travel and transport. Using ionized gas to create a plasma propellant, the VASIMR gets more thrust more efficiently than a chemical rocket. As usual, anything to do with rockets had the team enthralled (as did the 7,000 pound steel door on the vacuum chamber, which was formed with explosives).

Thursday, April 2, 2009

In Short...

I flew today. After spending Wednesday in and out of a coma caused by the flight drugs, Thursday came with much anticipation. The day started with a lightning lockdown in the hangar while Mallory, Jim, Kyle, and I were in our mission briefing. After a slight delay, we lined up to board the plane. With the wind in my hair and Kenny Loggins (Highway to the Danger Zone) in my head, I donned my Aviators and boarded G-FORCE ONE. The flight out to the Gulf was an anxious one. We had made the journey previously, only to return due to weather prior to the parabolas. This time the flight would proceed.

The first test went smoothly. We realized that we would be able to get two trials in per parabola. I decided that I didn’t need to be sitting to operate the computer interface. With my hands on the box for support, I proceeded to operate the experiment suspended in a handstand. Mallory was amazingly fast. Her quick maneuvers in the glove box allowed us to get two trials done per parabola. We were on track to finish early. Our enemy decided to strike again, however. The turbulence over the Gulf became too great for us to get in all of our scheduled parabolas. We were told we only had a few lunar left. Luckily for the team, we had doubled our parabolas and were on track to finish the test. We ended up collecting all of the data in time for a successful mission. We were left with one lunar, one Martian, and one zero-G that we could use for “secondary research.”

The last lunar was spent jumping around and running up the walls. I managed to pull myself up and walk on the ceiling of the plane. Martian gravity followed. I managed to pull off a reduced gravity version of Conan O’Brien’s String Dance. Hopefully it was captured on camera. Lastly, we had three zero-G parabolas. These were incredible. The sensation is difficult to put into words. "Pure Awesome" is close. The best way I can describe it is that it is like being suspended under water, but under normal pressure and no control. I had anticipated being able to swim around and float about, but I exhibited no such control in this environment. It is a struggle to even keep from flailing about. I always thought that floating would be somewhat like a rollercoaster. I was very wrong. There is no wind and you don’t actually realize that the plane is at a downward incline. It seems as if the gravity was just sucked out of the room and you are left floating. The only way to really express this sensation is to share the pictures and videos. I managed to lay my body parallel to the floor, but suspended in mid air. Meanwhile, Mallory showed off some yoga positions while Jim attempted to pull her around the cabin. Mallory and I both got the flip treatment and were wildly spun about the cabin. The feeling was surreal. I can't wait to share the pictures and videos.

(I have a much longer and detailed version of this post if anyone wants to read it).

Inside the Nerve Center

Mission Control. The holy grail. All of the students in the program were treated to a tour of JSC, but this was no ordinary trot around the grounds. We started in a hallowed place, the command room where flight directors Gene Kranz, Glynn Lunney and Cliff Charlesworth and a vast support staff helped Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins successfully complete the first manned mission to the surface of the moon. It was the technical core of many other missions over the years -- including the infamous Apollo 13 -- and is a National Historic Landmark of epic proportions.

Sitting behind the consoles looking almost exactly as they did on that fateful day in 1969, it was almost eery. Of course, everyone took a turn in the flight director's chair. 

It didn't quite hit us how special our tour was until we looked back into the enclosed viewing room and saw the people on the traditional tour. It was really something to be able to place a hand on such an indelible piece of history. 

We went on to several other control rooms, including one for the international space station. Our guide told us that nearly all of the people working in these rooms are engineers.

"NASA is looking for people who think a certain way," she said.

Observing the Motion Base from the outside, we couldn't help but imagine the astronauts inside dealing with high-fidelity flight simulation while a room full of instructors comes up with all sorts of ways to make things go wrong all day long. But such monkey wrenching is crucial when it comes to building an astronaut's proficiency.

Also crucial is the ability to conquer the space toilet, a necessary and intriguing piece of equipment. Thanks to Matt for giving it a try. 

Along the way, we got to see mock-ups of the international space station and its labs, the space shuttle, the Russian Soyuz and engineering marvels that are being developed as part of the Constellation Program. Once again, we were down on the floor of the bay while other tourists were confined to perimeter catwalks. It was such a thrill.  

Tomorrow, the day will be split between saying goodbye to Ellington Field and going on more tours. This trip is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we intend to take full advantage.


Despite getting cut eight parabolas short, crew two collected all the necessary data and managed to capture some zero-G yoga moves on camera. Congratulations.

Kyle flew with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln team at the same time and assisted them with an experiment on the flow of lunar soil simulant through a hopper. It was lucky he was there, because they ended up needing an extra person to manage the functioning of the solenoid. For those of you who don't know what a solenoid is, refer to the lovely words of Bob Davidson:

"Solenoid is an electromagnet that consists of a coil of wire wrapped around an iron core, and when you energize the coil it creates a magnetic field that can be used to move other things that are magnetic," said Bob. So when Kyle flipped on the solenoid, the slider on the hopper opened to allow the lunar soil simulant to flow through and the Nebraska team to collect their data. While Kyle would have preferred to work with his home team, he was happy to help and get exposed to different research and engineering students from another university.