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Floating Back to School

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August 12, 2005: Summer days spent relaxing can leave kids a little "spaced out" when they return to the classroom. Perfect! They're ready for astronaut training.

see captionOn Sept. 29, NASA and Ball State University will bring the experience of weightlessness into the classroom via an "electronic field trip" onboard a Boeing C-9 aircraft that NASA uses to train astronauts for the weightlessness of space. If you'd like to ride along, all you need is a high-speed internet connection (many classrooms have them) and a web browser to display the broadcast.

Right: Astronauts in training onboard a reduced gravity aircraft. [More]

"Electronic field trips (EFTs) are a great way to expose kids to new and exotic experiences," says Mark Kornmann, director of Ball State University's Electronic Field Trip program.

The Boeing C-9 simulates weightlessness through a series of steep climbs and dives between 24,000 and 33,000 feet, making passengers float in mid-air for up to 30 seconds at a time. Six teams of high-school teachers will actually ride onboard the aircraft on Sept. 29—and it won't be just a joy ride. They'll be conducting scientific experiments dreamed up by their own students. During the precious moments of weightlessness, they'll study the physics of liquid bridges, measure the tumble rate of a two pound "pico-satellite," record the behavior of weightless magnets and much more.

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Above: A screen shot of the EFT Web site. [More]

"This flight is part of our World Year of Physics 2005 celebration," says Vinaya Sathyasheelappa of the American Physical Society, which is co-sponsoring the flight with NASA and the American Association of Physics Teachers.

What is the World Year of Physics? One hundred years ago, Albert Einstein published three papers so important to science that physicists call it the annus mirabilis--or "miracle year." To mark Einstein's creative outburst, 2005 has been declared the "World Year of Physics." All around the world people are celebrating the Year with conferences, meetings, educational workshops—and weightless airplane rides!

The Electronic Field Trip to the Boeing C-9, which targets 7th- through 12th-grade students, will feature live coverage of in-flight experiments, pre-flight footage from the hanger where teachers, NASA scientists and students prepare for weightlessness, and a tutorial on the physics of free-fall. The broadcast airs in three consecutive hour-long segments, allowing teachers flexibility in scheduling.

"We try to make sure that in each hour the kids are going to experience the plane," Kornmann said. "It's really portable and teachers can pick and choose what they want to do."

Interested teachers can sign up online at the EFT Web site. Registration is free, thanks to support from the Best Buy Foundation.

The nine-year-old Electronic Field Trip program takes elementary, middle, and high-school students on four to six virtual trips per year, with past EFTs ranging from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. To date, an estimated 13 million to 15 million people have viewed each program, which are archived on the program’s Web site.

Visit http://www.bsu.edu/eft for more information.

Author: Kim Taylor | Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

More Information

Ball State University Electronic Field Trips -- home page

Just Where Is That Zero-G Room? -- an overview of the Sept 29th Electronic Field Trip to the Boeing C-9 reduced gravity airplane.

Microgravity University -- learn more about NASA's reduced gravity flight opportunities program

A list of experiments to be done by teachers onboard NASA's reduced gravity airplane

World Year of Physics 2005 -- home page

NASA's Vision for Space Exploration

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