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July 22nd, 2009
Texas State students experiment in zero gravity


Students from Texas State’s Chemistry Club recently had the chance to experiment in microgravity as part of NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program.

The students took the ride on what is known as the “Vomit Comet.” The plane travels in parabolic arcs to simulate weightlessness for limited periods of time. The team flew in June, after being selected as one of 13 schools to participate in the program. The competition accommodates up to 72 teams per year.

Texas State fliers included team leader Nick Mustachio, Becca Flores, David Doughty and Michael Beebower. The ground crew consisted of Lynda Montano, David Meyers and David Rosas. Assistant Professor of Chemistry Ben Martin and NASA Advisor Amber Newport oversaw the experiment.

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. Mustachio organized the team after learning about the program while working as an intern at NASA in 2007.

The team’s goal was to observe how convection currents that were formed in a liquid with different densities would change the operation of an electrochemical cell. Their rig for the experiment, which was designed to help hold the electrochemical cells in place, consisted of three containment cells. Two were electrochemical, while the third was filled with dyed ethanol and water, which helped make a visual representation of what was happening in microgravity.

The project took a year to complete, from the initial idea to performing it in flight.

“The first few parabolas I strapped myself down, as per their warning,” Doughty said. “At first, I was completely content with letting my arms float around. I was thinking, ‘this is awesome.'”

Said Mustachio, “One of the flight directors told us before hand to ‘make a memory. To use one parabola away from our research to just float up, look around and see what it looks like. To soak it all in. I looked around the cabin. I saw that people were upside down and sideways. Becca’s sunglasses were just sort of floating there right in front of me. It‘s like you‘re floating in a room. You have no sensation that you‘re falling.”

The ground team is currently in the process of reviewing, analyzing and preparing the data from the experiment for a final report, which will be turned in to NASA. After that, the team hopes to see what they can publish from it.

“Floating in zero gravity,” Mustachio said with a slight shake of his head. “It’s something I never thought I’d be doing my senior year of college. It was probably the wildest flight I’ll ever take in my life.”

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