March 13, 1998
Aspiring astronauts to ride on the 'Vomit Comet'WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Two groups of Purdue University students will travel to Houston this month to experience weightlessness aboard a research jet affectionately known as the "Vomit Comet."
Each student team designs and builds an experiment to fly with them, and each also involves local elementary, middle and high-school students in the experience.
The Purdue students will depart March 22 for a week of preflight training and activities before their actual flights, scheduled from March 30 to April 4 at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The flights are part of a program for college students sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The two Purdue teams involved are from the School of Chemical Engineering and the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, each guided by a faculty adviser.
The reaction, which takes place in a liquid, spontaneously forms patterns of color in the liquid as different chemicals travel through the medium. The experiment will be enclosed in a box so that the colors will show up better on a video camera, which also is incorporated into the box.
"This type of chemical reaction has never been performed in microgravity before, and we're very excited to be able to observe it," Saadah said. "Reactions exhibiting this type of behavior will someday need to be performed in space, and this experiment offers a window into what might be expected."
Students at Happy Hollow Elementary School in West Lafayette gave the engineering team several toys to take along, complete with specific instructions on what to do with them during the flight. Harrison High School students worked with the Purdue students in the lab to design a special box for the toys to fly in.
"When we get back, we'll take video of our flight back to the elementary school and compare the students' predictions with what actually happened to the toys," said Hilary Grinstead, a sophomore in chemical engineering from Columbus, Ind. , who aspires to be a doctor on board the International Space Station.
Scott Schoenherr, a senior from Elkhart, Ind. , majoring in aeronautics and premed, will lead the aeronautics team on its flight. Schoenherr, who flew last year on the Vomit Comet, is also eager to join the 21 Purdue alumni who have been chosen for the astronaut program. That list includes Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, and two of the seven Americans who have flown on board the orbiting Russian space station Mir.
"Our experiment will study how fluid behaves in tanks under microgravity conditions," Schoenherr said. "Controlling the sloshing of liquid fuel in microgravity is important to maintaining the position of satellites in space, and it also is integral to making space missions cost-effective in terms of fuel usage."
Wainwright Middle School, Lafayette, supplied an experiment for the aeronautics flight team -- investigating what happens to a carbonated beverage when it's opened in weightlessness.
The students on Schoenherr's flight team, all majoring in aeronautics and astronautics, are: Chris Heidelberger, a sophomore from Indianapolis ; Daniel J. Radocaj, a sophomore from Massillon, Ohio ; and Jamie Schultz, a sophomore from Elroy, Wis. Other members of the team, responsible for outreach activities, designing the experiment and other tasks, are: John Dankanich, a sophomore from Hammond, Ind. ; Jonathan Edwards, a freshman from Granger, Ind. ; Casey Kirchner, a sophomore from Omaha ; Alex Morgan, a junior from St. Louis ; and Meredith Saliers, a freshman from Grand Rapids, Mich.
Chemical engineering students joining Saadah on his flight will be Trisha Beutien, a junior form Carmel, Ind. , and Jennifer Ralston, a junior from Newburgh, Ind. Other participants are the experiment team: Brad Ecker, a senior from Louisville , and Amanda Schreiweis, a junior from New Albany, Ind. ; and the outreach team: Cassandra Forthofer, a junior form Greenwood, Ind. , and Grinstead.
Sources: Nicholas Saadah, (765) 495-8088; e-mail, email@example.com