What We Did On Our Summer Vacation, Part Deux……

Summer vacation is a great time to head to destination spots such as Six Flags-Over-The-City-Nearest-You, where you can twist your stomach in a weightless knot on super-sophisticated rollercoasters………..and pay big bucks for the privilege.
Now, if you are a student at Missouri S&T you can go weightless for as long as possible while still remaining in earth’s atmosphere, and all for FREE!. Think we’re kidding? Well, just look at this!
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Miners In Space (MIS) is a S&T multi-disciplinary student research team that is nearly out of this world. They work all year to plan and build experiments that operate in zero-gravity conditions, i.e. outer space. Since the waiting list for extra-terrestrial launch vehicles is years and mega-millions of dollars away, the next
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best thing is NASA’s research parabola jet, better know as the "vomit comet*". This aircraft repeatedly climbs and then dives to earth at the precise speed at which its cargo, both human and non-carbon based, float about the cabin as if in space; a free-form rollercoaster if you will. Just imagine, up and down, up and down, over and over again until your complexion turns green.
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MIS has two design groups that conduct cutting-edge research on zero-gravity manufacturing and satellite navigation systems that even NASA and other countries with space experience haven’t attempted. The team just returned from NASA’s Johnson Space Center where Tonya Sanders, Adam Hoefer, Chad Stovall and Ryan Pahl worked on thruster systems that use gimble-mounted jets to steer satellites and other spacecraft. These fiery control thrusters have been used on rockets since World War II, but MIS have developed prototype COLD jet thrusters using less-volatile compressed gas, and the air-bearing platform necessary to measure the thrusters’ effect. When the thruster control programs failed just before the flight they revamped the project in just two hours to concentrate on the friction-free platform’s feasibility.
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Michelle Rader and Caleb Baumgart "own" the zero-G welder aimed at future space-based manufacturing operations. Their project made both control welds at level flight and one weightless weld during a dive. MIS Caleb sitting 2.jpg
Before the Miners’ second flight they adjusted voltage, heat, and wire-feed speeds and managed several more zero-G welds, as well as both lunar (1/6th-G) and martian (1/3rd-G) welds. Michelle says it was more reliable than past attempts, but was still not what they hoped for. They did gain enough information to determine the necessary speed, power and standards for repeatable manufacturing when men return to the moon or venture to Mars, but we are betting Michelle or Tonya will be there first, likely as mission commanders.
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NASA’s education program pays for these flights, which cost $13,000 per hour, the kind of cash that will get your entire high school into Six Flags for a day. Each school, of which several flew together, goes through a grueling year-long review process to qualify for these research flights, and this trip was S&T’s third flight series over the past few years. Those successful teams are assigned a NASA mentor who helps each team be flight-ready. S&T’s guardian angel, Tamara George, was amazing in her support of the Miners and is typical of NASA folks who really WANT these teams to fly.

*Now let’s talk about the, er, "comet".
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NASA issues each student a little white bag, and we hear it is for
good reason, because many become ill on the world’s highest . Caleb 31.jpg
(by far!) roller coaster. We don’t have specific names to match the symptoms, but one student got too sick to work. Another was miserable but pulled himself together and managed to work the equipment. Tough work, indeed.
We mentioned other schools on the flight. The walls of the jetliner are not only padded for when gravity suddenly returns, but are usually festooned with each university’s school banners. In this photo you might note the KU Jayhawks’ banner farther back in the plane.
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We want to dispel, once and for all, any assumption that the Jayhawks were simply the stewardesses……………


  1. Chad Stovall says