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March 9th, 2009
Texas State students to ride NASA 'Vomit Comet'


Students from Texas State’s Department of Chemistry will soon have the chance to discover why its called the “Vomit Comet” while participating in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Reduced Gravity Student Flight Program.

The group of five seniors and one junior earned their places after submitting an experiment titled “Electrochemical Reduction of Iodohexane in Microgravity,” completed in 2006. Team leader Nick Mustachio organized the team after learning about the program while working as an intern at NASA in 2007.

After a series of safety reports on the experiment are finished, the team will depart for the Johnson Space Center in Houston on June 4 to train. The experiment, scheduled for June 13, will have the students experiencing microgravity. A plane will perform a steep climb over the Gulf of Mexico, followed by an equally steep dive, which will produce 30 seconds of zero gravity. The process will be repeated thirty times for the experiment.

“I’m definitely looking forward to experiencing microgravity,” said Mustachio. “I can’t imagine anything cooler than that.”

Said team member Rebecca Flores, “I’m nervous about the flying and the safety of doing 30 parabolic maneuvers over the Gulf of Mexico. That’s kind of nerve wracking.”

Ben Martin, faculty advisor to the experiment and chemistry professor, said the experiment is fairly common in a laboratory setting, but the challenge will be engineering an apparatus to contain the materials, making it possible to replicate the experiment in a limited amount of time and keeping all involved safe.

“The actual chemistry is not that hard to do here,” said Martin. “Everything will have to be contained. You have to be safe.”

So far the experiment is costing $5,000-6,000. Students are still in the process of seeking sponsorships and science grants, but, despite the costs and the added work, they are enthusiastic about the success they have encountered thus far.

“I want the experiment to work,” team member David Rosas said. “I would consider it a success, anyway, but I am a scientist and I want it to work. Nothing is impossible. If you have a dream, and are willing to be dedicated to it, you can make a lot of things happen.”

Said Mustachio, “I’m a little nervous about making sure everything works right in a timely manner before we go to Houston. The hardest part is getting a full understanding of the engineering aspect that must go into this project. It has definitely been a learning experience.”

The students who will participate in the experiment are Nick Mustachio, Houston, senior; David Rosas, San Antonio, senior; Rebecca Flores, Austin, senior; Lydia Montano, Wallis, junior; David Myers, Lake Jackson, senior; Michael Beebower, senior.

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