Since the autumn of 1996, Purdue's School of Aeronautics & Astronautics has been involved in the NASA Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunity program.
Dr. Steven Collicott, professor of aeronautics & astronautics specializes in research and engineering on low gravity fluids topics and he advised the first few teams of students. Collicott then created an upper-level undergraduate course for students to design zero-gravity flight experiments specifically for the NASA program which then became part of the curriculum. In all, it is a team-based, hands-on multidisciplinary experience.
The Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program provides a unique academic experience for undergraduate students to successfully propose, design, fabricate, fly, assess and disseminate information from a reduced-gravity experiment.
The selection process for flying in the vomit comet is very competitive and teams of undergraduate students from all over the country send in proposals for experiments to be performed in a reduced-gravity environment. The experiments have to be designed and fabricated to meet NASA's safety regulations and only the best are chosen to be carried out by the student teams during a flight on NASA's C-9 aircraft.
The plane flies in steep up-and-down parabolic maneuvers, producing periods of weightlessness lasting about 25 seconds during downward "parabola" or downward maneuver, giving students scant time to ready their experiments for the next parabola. The plane varies the steepness of its maneuvers, and this varying steepness produces different degrees of weightless. Most of the maneuvers reproduce the weightlessness experienced by space shuttle astronauts flying in orbit around Earth, but a few of the maneuvers reproduce the gravity on Mars and the moon.
Since 1996, 27 student teams from AAE have flown 3038 parabolas, spending more than 21 hours in zero-gravity, the equivalent of 44 minutes on the moon or 59 minutes on Mars. Two further teams from AAE were accepted on December 6, to fly in June 2008.
A new graphic display was unveiled on December 7, 2007 which recognizes and celebrates AAE undergraduate student success and achievement in the NASA "Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunity Program".
The new artwork boasts of the remarkable AAE student performance in this challenging and competitive engineering educational program. Our many visitors, from research sponsors to prospective students, will view AAE students at their best. The display has been situated just east of the AAE student lounge area on the 3rd floor in Armstrong Hall.