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AAMU Students Will Return to 'Zero G'

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TEAM ZERO:  Dr. Chance Glenn, dean, College of Engineering, Technology and Physical Sciences (left) and faculty mentors Dr. Malinda Gilmore and Gerald Vines (right) join the five members of the microgravity team.


Huntsville, Ala. ---- Alabama A&M University students will again go where few have gone before when they experience zero gravity as part of NASA’s Microgravity Research Flight Program in November.


AAMU is one of 14 institutions selected for NASA’s week-long program, scheduled November 1-8 in Houston, Tex.  The chosen undergraduate student teams will test science experiments under microgravity conditions.  The program is a collaborative effort between NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP) and the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program.


AAMU’s seven-person team includes: Dr. Malinda Gilmore, faculty mentor, coordinator and assistant professor of chemistry; Gerald Vines, faculty mentor and faculty associate for student achievement; Tangela Hatch, team leader, a junior chemistry major from Faifield, Ala.; Ariel Dowdy, a junior mechanical engineering major from Chicago, Ill.; Kyle King, a junior chemistry major from Westwood, N.J.; Eshirdanya McGhee, a sophomore majoring in physics from Hayneville, Ala.; and Michael Wallace, a junior mechanical engineering major who hails from Tuskegee, Ala.


“This is a landmark achievement,” comments Dr. Chance Glenn, who serves as dean of the College of Engineering, Technology and Physical Sciences, and who is undoubtedly the team’s biggest cheerleader.  The college is the umbrella under which the students’ STEM disciplines are housed.  “I am very excited about the project.”


The NASA’s Microgravity Research Flight Program consists of scientific research, experimental design, test operations and outreach activities.  It supports NASA’s strategic goal of sharing the agency’s missions and programs with the public, educators and students to provide opportunities to participate in its mission and foster innovation.


The team will design and build the experiment at AAMU and will then transport it to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for tests aboard an aircraft modified to mimic a reduced gravity environment. The modified aircraft will fly approximately 30 parabolas with roller-coaster like climbs and dips to produce periods of weightlessness and hyper-gravity ranging from 0 to 2g’s.


The AAMU flight team will work closely with Nancy Hall, a NASA flight mentor from NASA Glenn Research Center, on the “Film Layer Thickness of Liquid Crystals” project.  The main objective of the experiment is to study the formation of different layer thicknesses of freely suspended liquid films.


Moreover, this work will complement work already being done on the Observation and Analysis of Smectic Islands in Space (OASIS) space flight experiment currently under development.  By AAMU’s Team conducting this experiment, the results will be compared and would complement the visual and indirect observation of film layer estimate analysis of the OASIS flight experiment.


About a decade ago, a similar group of AAMU students geared up to fly on the KC-135 in July 2004.  The group also participated in the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program operated by NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Tex., which provided the "weightless" or "zero-g" environment of space flight for test and training purposes.


The AAMU crew of 2004 was part of Flight Group 6, which included colleagues from Duke, Harvard, MIT and others and flew throughout two consecutive days during a 10-day period that summer. Each flight lasted an average of 60-80 minutes, also with approximately 30 zero gravity parabolic maneuvers over the Gulf of Mexico.


For additional information about the 2013 team and its preparations, contact Dr. Malinda Gilmore at (256) 372-4803 or Gerald Vines at (256) 372-5574.

- Jerome Saintjones

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