Feet on the ground, reaching for the stars: Update from Mr. Guilbert

Once here in Houston, the Space Cowboys divided into two teams, with the plan to have to have each team fly on consecutive days (one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday).  We knew in advance that the second day would probably have the better chance at getting good data from our experiment, since pretty much all of the unforeseen problems would crop up on the first day of flying.  We would still have time after the Tuesday flight to troubleshoot our equipment before flying on Wednesday.

But before doing any flying we had to pass an engineering review, which at NASA is pretty intense.  Basically, the investigators from every research project have to face a group of about a dozen engineers who are experts in various areas of flight science.  We explain what we’re doing and how we went about making our apparatus both strong and safe.  And the engineers can ask us anything – literally, anything – they’re concerned about.  We passed, but other groups were not so lucky.  The only fix we needed to make was to tape over the metal tab on the end of a slinky we planned to take on board just for fun.

Photo above: Our apparatus in its flight box.  The bubble experiment takes up the top half, and the ‘oscillators’ (spring and pendulum) are in the bottom half.  The apparatus is in the hangar near the runway for the microgravity flight.

Photo above: The bubble experiment.  The bubble gun is at right, and a FlipCam is at left below the vertical black bar.

Photo 1 above: The ‘oscillators’.  The pendulum (a softball) hangs from a ‘V’ of string at lower right, and a mass hangs from a spring at upper left.  Both oscillators have dedicated videocameras and motion sensors.

Photo 2 above: Stickers from the schools and institutions involved in our experiment adorn the outside of the experiment box.

Early on flight day, we were urged to take  the (voluntary) anti-nausea meds.  Basically, our chances were about 3 in 4 that we would get sick without the meds, and about 1 in 5 that we’d get sick if we did take them.  It doesn’t take calculus to figure out that the odds strongly favor taking the meds!  They do have some side effects, but in my case they pretty much boiled down to a dry mouth and sleepiness.

Photo above:  The Flight Director gives us a thumbs-up to fly before we go out to board the plane

Next up: flying on the Weightless Wonder!