San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

April 16th, 2010
San Marcos CISD teacher selected for a flight of discovery

041510NicoleStevensOn April 30, San Marcos CISD teacher Nicole Stevens will slip the surly bonds of Earth.


San Marcos CISD teacher Nicole Stevens will soon experience a loss of weight, and it’s not from her diet. She has been selected to be a part of the Northrop Grumman Weightless Flight of Discovery in McAllen on April 30.

Science teachers from around the county were invited to apply for the Weightless Flight of Discovery program, which seeks to bolster the interest of students and the goals of educators in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses.

“This is a very unique program that provides teachers with the tools and experiences they need to show students that math and science are not only fun, but an open door to fascinating and worthwhile careers,” said Sandra Evers-Manly, president of the Northrop Grumman Foundation.

Stevens is one of 30 teachers selected for the program from across the state. The Flight of Discovery will have the educators conducting experiments aboard an aircraft that creates a weightless environment, often called “zero gravity.” The teachers were briefed in a workshop on April 10, when they learned details about the flight, how to operate in a zero gravity environment, and how to develop science and math curriculum.

“The Weightless Flights of Discovery program was launched with the goal of inspiring teachers, who would, in turn, inspire their students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education,” said Evers-Manly. “This program has succeeded beyond our expectations and is now very much in demand. We’re delighted that 180 more teachers will join the 1,120 teachers nationwide who have participated to date.”

The program, now in its fifth year, targets secondary school math and science teachers, primarily because of the shortage of college graduates in those disciplines throughout the nation.

“Our foundation’s mission is to develop unique, sustainable, and national-level programs to inspire interest in STEM subjects, and the Weightless Flights of Discovery initiative follows through on that commitment,” Evers-Manly said.

Before the flight, the selected teachers will develop experiments to be conducted in the weightless environment with their students.

Creating a weightless environment involves an airplane flying in a six-mile long parabolic arc, climbing and then entering a powered dive. During the arc, the propulsion and steering of the aircraft are controlled such that the drag on the plane is cancelled out, leaving the plane to react as though it were free-falling in a vacuum. During this process, the occupants of the plane experience about 25 seconds of weightlessness and will then experience about 25 seconds of 2g acceleration. They will feel twice their normal weight during the pullout from the parabola. This effect is why these planes have picked up the nickname of “vomit comets.”

Stevens’ flight will take place on April 30 and will last between two and three hours. When she returns, she will share her experiences with her students.

In McAllen, 27 Texas teachers and three students from The University of Texas Pan-American (UTPA) studying to become teachers will participate in the flight. UTPA worked with the Northrop Grumman Foundation to help bring the program to the Rio Grande Valley.

“Every engineer, scientist and technically trained person can look back and identify a teacher who played a significant role in his or her decision to pursue a technical career,” said Evers-Manly. “For a global security company like Northrop Grumman, technical excellence is absolutely essential to our organization and a core focus of the foundation.”

To learn more about the program, visit

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