State College of Florida students to study aboard NASA aircraft

jajones1@bradenton.comJune 15, 2011 

MANATEE -- A team of physics students from State College of Florida leave today for Johnson Space Center in Houston to conduct scientific experiments over the Gulf of Mexico aboard NASA’s “Weightless Wonder” aircraft.

The students will experience moments of weightlessness when the plane climbs, levels off and begins to descend. The roller-coaster maneuver is called a parabola. Each of 30 parabolas during a flight creates 18 to 25 seconds of weightlessness.

Team leader Jim Mohan of Venice is an alumni of NASA’s aerospace scholar program.

NASA put out an offer to aerospace scholar alumni to apply for its Reduced Gravity Education Flight Opportunities Program.

Mohan took the idea to Karen Wetz, SCF physics professor, and faculty adviser for the MicroG Manatees Team.

Out of a series of classroom brainstorming sessions, the class settled on studying magnetic forces between dipoles at various distances. Students also will study centripetal forces in a weightless environment.

Centripetal force, not to be confused by its opposite, centrifugal force, is in play when a tether ball revolves around a pole or a satellite spins around a planet. With a tether ball, the centripetal force is supplied by the tether. With a satellite it is provided by gravity.

SCF was one of 14 colleges around the country accepted by NASA for the reduced gravity program taking place June 16-24.

The State College team will make a video of its experiments and will be prepared to take what it learns to high school and middle school classrooms in Manatee and Sarasota.

While the seven members of the SCF team -- five of whom are expected to fly aboard the Weightless Wonder -- will receive a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, NASA wants to ensure that the students share what they learn with younger students to help stoke enthusiasm for understanding the universe.

Among the students who will be flying are Harrison Britt, a former Palm-Aire resident who attended Lakewood Ranch High School for two years and graduated from Booker High School.

Britt called it an awesome couple of weeks, heading to Houston for the experiments in microgravity and being accepted into the pharmacy program at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine at Lakewood Ranch.

Other members of the MicroG Manatees team include Brenan Flint, Joe Comer, Alexa La Motte, and Mario Osborn. Nonflying team members include Andrew Moffatt and Adam Hogan.

“Definitely excited” is how Mohan described team anticipation over the opportunity to take part in “this amazing thing.”

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