Thursday, October 20, 2011

FAMU's Weightless Students Return to Earth

After testing their self-designed and constructed experiments on-board a gravity-defying aircraft, five students and a faculty member from Florida A&M University (FAMU) were busy evaluating their data after experiencing weightlessness at NASA Johnson Space Center’s Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. “This was a unique opportunity for a team from FAMU to work on a true interdisciplinary project, one that has relevance to NASA and the future of space exploration,” said Clement Allen, associate professor in FAMU’s Computer and Information Sciences. “The team brought together many skills — mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science. This was a chance for them to understand how scientific and engineering problems are approached in the real world.” This experiment was part of NASA’s Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program (RGEFP), which gives teams of undergraduate students from across the nation the opportunity to propose, design, build, fly and evaluate a reduced gravity experiment. The team was selected from more than 70 proposals based on scientific merit and education outreach potential. FAMU students that participated in the experiment included the following: Brian Johnson, a computer and information sciences major; Victoria Moore, a computer and information sciences major; Paolo Clavijo, a electronic engineering technology major; Obie Obakporo, a mechanical engineering major; Twan Capehart, a mechanical engineering major; and Stacy Tinner, a electronic engineering technology major “I gained a whole lot from this experience,” said Obakporo. “I was exposed to the multiple strenuous tests that engineers have to go through at the professional level. Consequently, it forced me to be extremely meticulous and thorough in every aspect of my work, to ensure the best chance of success for our experiment and guarantee a safe work environment. Although the work proved to be challenging and even tedious at times, the difficulty of each task only added to the gratification and satisfaction of achieving such an accomplishment ... having our experiment approved by NASA!” The team tested their experiment aboard NASA’s “Weightless Wonder,” a microgravity aircraft that can produce periods of weightlessness lasting 18 to 25 seconds at a time by flying a series of about 30 parabolas – a steep climb followed by a free fall – over the Gulf of Mexico. The student team flew their experiment, “Pseudo-Gravity Application for Autonomous Mobile Robot in a Microgravity Environment,” at Ellington Field. The experiment consisted of testing a robot that could create its own gravity in a weightless environment using a series of propellers, enabling the robot to remain grounded and traverse a surface even when there is reduced gravity. The team will issue a final report to NASA analyzing the experiment’s effectiveness, scientific findings and the conclusions that were drawn from the results.

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