Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Big Day

By John DeLooper

Today was the day. The first briefing was by the flight director explaining what was going to happen, to relax, to breathe and make sure we don't develop tunnel vision - his words of advice - to make a memory because this probably will be the one and only time you will do this. There was a however.... you need to be working on your research ...the reason we are here. As he explained, you are government personnel and you are using a government laboratory - make the most of it.

Then the doctor came in and reviewed a number of items and handed out the medications to try to ward off motion sickness. Everyone, except one, took the meds.

The steward of the plane then briefed us on safety equipment, the hoods for emergency oxygen and the very, very limited bathroom facilities. Then the famous march to the plane with the NASA folks as well as our staff, who recorded it with photos and video.

As we entered the plane we took our seats at the back end of the plane. Below is a picture of what the inside looks like from the seats. Our experiment is the third one - taller glove box. In the picture, Aliya is hanging the banner we had made up. On Friday, we'll all sign it and hang it in their "high bay" room.

So we departed, flew to altitude and then had about 10 minutes to start our motion sensors and video cameras (2 sensors and 4 cameras). And then the evolutions began. It was amazing. We completed 30 full microgravity cycles and one Martian and one lunar cycle. Our experiment worked. We still had difficulties - one of our bubble machines fell down, one of our cameras shut down but overall this was a successful experiment. The teachers also got to do some outreach activities using some toys to show the effect of microgravity. Andrew and I tossed a tennis ball back and forth - very cool. We should be getting the NASA video in a couple of weeks to share with others. The approved flight plan which took us over the Gulf of Mexico  is shown in the picture below. 
Before you knew it, the experimental phase of the flight was done. We cleaned up, shut things down and went back to our seats heading back to the Ellington airfield. We landed and marched out of the plane with the camera folks taking pictures. Then back into the briefing rooms for the post-flight brief. There were a lot of happy people - the teachers who worked with me were very happy, grateful and full of ideas on how to use this in their classrooms. Unfortunately, some folks on the flight did get sick and had a rough time. They were well cared for by the flight surgeon.

After turning in my flight suit, I thanked the steward for his efforts on the flight. I did tease him about a few improvements they might make - didn't get any frequent flyer miles, there was no movie available and there was no inflight magazine to read.....

And by the way, I certainly made a memory.

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