Volume: 03, Issue: 17 08/24/2005 
Astronauts train in a NASA aircraft simulating the weightless environment of space. Image courtesy NASA.
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Other Articles in This Issue:
International Space Station Will Host Civilian
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Hurtles Toward the Red Planet
Spacewalk Ends Early for Space Station Crew
Discovery to Launch Again in March

Study Weightlessness through Electronic Field Trip

Have you always wondered what astronauts experience in the weightlessness of space? Now you can find out Sept. 29, 2005 through an “electronic field trip” aboard a Boeing C-9 astronaut training aircraft. If you'd like to ride along, all you need is a high-speed Internet connection and a Web browser to display the broadcast.

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.

The flight is part of the World of Physics 2005 celebration. 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," said Mark Kornmann, director of Ball State University's Electronic Field Trip program. "It's really portable, and teachers can pick and choose what they want to do."

Interested teachers can sign up online. Registration is free, thanks to support from the Best Buy Foundation. The flight is sponsored by NASA, the American Physical Society, and the American Association of Physics teachers.

The nine-year-old Electronic Field Trip program takes elementary, middle, and high school students on four to six virtual trips per year. Past trips range from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. To date, an estimated 13 to 15 million people have viewed each program, which are archived on the program’s website. Visit http://www.bsu.edu/eft for more information.

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