PVAMU Microgravity Research Team Meets Ups and Downs of NASA Flights

November 27, 2013
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There are ups and downs in every college student’s life, but a team of five Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) engineering students took their research to new heights aboard the NASA’s microgravity research aircraft at Ellington Air Force Base.

The PVAMU Center for Radiation Engineering and Science for Space Exploration (CRESSE) has been conducting space radiation research for more than 5 years and recently flew a talented team of student researchers aboard the space agency’s high-altitude flying laboratory known as the “Weightless Wonder.”

A roller coaster-like flight over the Gulf of Mexico in the flying laboratory produces periods of simulated zero gravity, 1/6-G lunar gravity and 1/3-G Martian gravity. The flight provides a unique opportunity for student researchers and their mentors to take critical measurements useful not only to earth-bound aircraft, but to future earth orbit and deep space flights as well.

University Research Center technical advisor Dr. Brad Gersey, undergraduate flight leader Brandon Norman and the other four PVAMU team members designed and fabricated a payload intended to set the “gold standard” in radiation dosimetry measurements. The data developed in two days of parabolic flights aboard the ZERO-G Boeing 727 operated for NASA may help NASA and other researchers develop reliable instruments that can eventually predict radiation dose aboard passenger, commercial and cargo airline flights around the world.

The PVAMU team included Norman, a CRESSE undergraduate electrical engineering major, electrical engineering major T’Ron Gooch, chemical engineering major Jessica Gray, electrical engineering student Asad Hussain and Stephen Bacon, a mechanical engineering graduate student. NASA-Dryden’s aerospace meteorologist, Scott Wiley, accompanied the students.

“This is an excellent student team from the Roy G. Perry College of Engineering,” said CRESSE Director Dr. Richard T. Wilkins. “Throughout the project, their teamwork and professionalism was exemplary.”

Wilkins said the team’s payload consisted of two radiation micro-dosimeters which produced data to determine each instrument’s response in a microgravity environment. The measurements provided a baseline for future high altitude flights and helped improve atmospheric radiation models. “Our measurements are designed to help build better models that will help provide information and predictions about what dose rates would be encountered at any given time and on any given flight anywhere – at least in the northern hemisphere,” Wilkins said.

Members of the PVAMU team float in the air as they experience zero gravity aboard the flying laboratory. Photo: Courtesy of the Roy G. Perry College of Engineering

Members of the PVAMU team float in the air as they experience zero gravity aboard the flying laboratory. Photo: Courtesy of the Roy G. Perry College of Engineering

PVAMU team member Brandon Norman explains the team’s experiment to representatives from NASA. Photo: Courtesy of the Roy G. Perry College of Engineering

PVAMU team member Brandon Norman explains the team’s experiment to representatives from NASA. Photo: Courtesy of the Roy G. Perry College of Engineering