Back to NASA: USU team selected for ‘Microgravity University’

LOGAN, UT (January 14, 2011) – For the second year in a row, Utah State University student researchers will experience zero-gravity flight in a “chance of a lifetime” as they conduct an innovative heat transfer experiment of their own design aboard NASA’s ‘Vomit Comet.’ USU’s Get Away Special Team received word Dec. 8 that their proposal was among 14 submissions from throughout the nation selected for NASA’s 2011 Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program, also known as ‘Microgravity University.’ “Those of us who participated in last year’s experiment are very thrilled that our new proposal was selected,” says Troy Munro, an undergraduate researcher who flew on the Vomit Comet with the 2010 team last June. “With a new group of students ready to take on the project, everyone is very excited and eager to get ready.” At least seven Aggies – five flyers, an alternate flyer and a ground crew member – will travel to Houston’s Johnson Space Center June 2-11 for more than a week of astronaut training that will culminate in microgravity flight aboard a specially modified Boeing 727. USU’s proposed experiment, called “Follow-up Nucleate Boiling On-flight Experiment 2.0” or FUNBOE 2.0, builds on last year’s experiment and a previous GAS Team experiment that flew on Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2001. “Long-standing theory predicts that as gravity goes to zero, so does your heat transfer,” says Justin Koeln, experiment team leader and veteran microgravity flyer. “But findings from our initial experiments challenge that theory.” The FUNBOE experiments examine fundamental questions about boiling water and other liquids in space. FUNBOE 2.0 will also test a novel idea of cooling using boiling heat transfer on a micro-fabricated silicon chip. “What the students are asking is ‘Can we use a heater to increase cooling?’” says GAS faculty mentor Heng Ban, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. “It sounds counterintuitive, but boiling takes away a lot of heat very quickly.” Ban says the ability to control bubble generation and use boiling as a mechanism of heat transfer could have multiple applications, including thermal management solutions needed for long-term space travel to Mars and beyond. The students’ experiment, he says, contains a potentially patentable idea. Aboard NASA’s microgravity aircraft, the Aggies will experience weightlessness as the plane follows a parabolic path and repeatedly dives from 32,000 feet in a series of about 32 controlled free falls. Organized in 1976, the USU GAS team is largely responsible for one of the university’s well known achievements: Utah State has sent more student-built experiments into space than any other university in the world. More information about the project is available at the USU GAS Team website, www.gas.usu.edu, and the team’s Facebook page, “USU Get Away Special Team.”

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