Students from San Jacinto College and the University of Houston-Clear Lake will get to fly aboard NASA’s “Weightless Wonder” aircraft, but they won’t be along for a joy ride; these students will be conducting a scientific experiment on suppressing flames in microgravity as part of NASA’s Microgravity University program.
The San Jacinto College/UHCL team was one of 14 teams selected from universities and colleges nationwide to participate in the program, and it includes three San Jacinto College students and four UHCL students, along with a faculty adviser from each school.
UHCL students include team lead Ryan Page, Jarrett Lockridge, Alexander Smith and Megan Burns, while San Jacinto College students include Miguel Rosales, Jeremy Penny and Leslie Guerrero. San Jacinto College Professor of Engineering and Mathematics Nathanial Wiggins is the faculty adviser for the College, while UH-Clear Lake Professor of Computer Science Kwok-Bon Yue will be the UHCL faculty adviser. The NASA Principal Investigator and Team Mentor for the experiment is Eryn Beisner.
The team is participating in the Microgravity University’s Minority Serving Institutions and Community Colleges program, which competitively selects proposals submitted by student teams from schools across the country. The goal of the program is to not only provide an educational opportunity for the students involved, but to also meet existing needs within NASA. The Microgravity University’s webpage states, “[t]he proposed projects are identified by the NASA technical workforce and are in support of current NASA systems engineering projects throughout the agency.”
While often billed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, this is actually a repeat performance for some team members. Page and Lockridge both flew on another Microgravity University flight in April 2012 while they were students at San Jacinto College, and Wiggins was their faculty mentor for that program as well.
“Being able to participate in a microgravity flight last April was an amazing experience,” says Page, “and I’m hoping that this will be even better. On your first flight, there are always so many unexpected things that can distract you from the experiment. I remember the dry mouth from the motion sickness medication being so bad that I couldn’t really talk towards the end of the flight.
“But, the prior flight experience should come in handy and allow us to design and conduct an even better experiment.”
The team’s experiment, “Acoustic Flame Suppression Mechanics,” will attempt to suppress or extinguish a small flame using sound waves in a microgravity environment.
“Without going into too much detail, the idea is to use sound waves to alter the physics of the flame in such a way that it is suppressed. This is a departure from the traditional methods of fire suppression such as fire extinguishers or sprinklers. Our hope is to provide a solution which can be implemented in NASA’s long-range missions, such as the planned missions to an asteroid and Mars,” says Page.
The team will participate in two flights which are currently scheduled for early November. On each of the flights, three team members will fly on a specially modified Boeing 727-200 aircraft, nicknamed the “Weightless Wonder.” The aircraft flies in a parabolic path to achieve periods of microgravity which last for approximately 20 seconds each; each flight should be able to conduct about 30 of these parabolas during its 90-minute trip, which flies over the Gulf of Mexico for safety purposes.
The team has selected a novel name for themselves as well: Team Vulcan.
“We think it’s a good symbol for what we’re doing,” says Page. “It really pulls in the mythology of Vulcan being the Roman god of fire. We’re going to be controlling fire using invisible forces, so it seemed appropriate.
“Plus, we’re all having a great time with the live long and prosper jokes.”
The team is currently using lab facilities at the San Jacinto College North Campus to perform testing on flames in normal conditions, and the results are promising. In just a few short weeks of testing the team is already able to manipulate a flame.
“It’s a start,” says Page, “the next step is to work on refining our capabilities to the point that we can use the acoustic waves to suppress a flame in normal gravity, and from there we’ll develop a system for microgravity.”
The team will fly in November 2013. To find out more about the team, visit http://www.teamvulcan.com. For more information about San Jacinto College, visit http://www.sanjac.edu. For more information about UH-Clear Lake, visit http://www.uhcl.edu.
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Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. The Achieving the Dream Leader College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of 30,000 students in more than 200 degree and certificate options, including university transfer and career preparation. Students also benefit from the College’s job training programs, renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $630 million each year to the Texas workforce. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College. For more information about San Jacinto College, please call 281-998-6150, visit www.sanjac.edu, or follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SanJacintoCollege.
University of Houston-Clear Lake offers more than 80 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, including a doctoral program, from its four schools, which include the School of Business, School of Education, School of Human Sciences and Humanities, and School of Science and Computer Engineering. In 2011, the university gained approval from the state to add freshman- and sophomore-level courses to its roster and is currently planning for its first freshman class in fall 2014. For more information about the university, visit http://www.uhcl.edu, like us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/UHClearLake or follow us on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/UHClearLake.