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NASA Chooses ERAU Teams for Weightlessness Experiments

12 January 2010   Bill Thompson, Director Public Relations

NASA chooses two Embry-Riddle student teams to conduct experiments in simulated weightlessness.


Nathan Silvernail, leader of the Daytona Beach team, floats aboard the Weightless Wonder aircraft during previous participation in NASA's Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program.

Prescott, Ariz., and Daytona Beach, Fla., Jan. 11, 2010 – NASA has selected two undergraduate student teams from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to conduct experiments of their own design aboard the agency’s “Weightless Wonder” aircraft at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The teams from Embry-Riddle’s residential campuses in Prescott, Ariz., and Daytona Beach, Fla., will participate in NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program June 17-26, 2010.

The prestigious annual program, which chose only 14 collegiate teams from across the nation this year, gives students the invaluable opportunity to propose, design, build, fly, and test scientific experiments in microgravity without the extreme costs and requirements of actual space flight. NASA's Weightless Wonder is a specially modified aircraft that is flown in parabolic arcs to create temporary periods of microgravity, or free fall, during which students and their experiments float above the aircraft’s floor.  

“Today’s students will be the ones going to the moon and beyond to live, explore, and work,” said Douglas Goforth, manager of NASA’s Reduced Gravity Education Program. “This project gives them a head start in preparing for those future ventures by allowing them to conduct hands-on research and engineering today in a unique reduced-gravity laboratory.”

Over the past several months, as part of an Embry-Riddle senior design course, eight engineering students at the Prescott campus have developed a microsatellite system and an accompanying algorithm to study the effect of torque, or twisting force, on the movement of the satellite. Onboard the NASA aircraft they will apply torque to the satellite internally.


Zach grey, leader of the Prescott team, teaches a physics class at Prescott High School as part of the community-outreach requirement of the NASA program.

“In the real world of space, the mass properties of spacecraft can change as a result of docking efforts, space debris accumulation, or weight reduction through fuel consumption,” said team leader Zach Grey. “The mass properties determine how a spacecraft reacts to a torque. This experiment should advance our knowledge of the effect of torque on spacecraft. The more precisely you can measure how torque affects movement, the more control you’ll have over a spacecraft’s movement.”


The other members of the Prescott student team are Tom Ballard, Ken Bowen, Bryan Davis, Scott Murphy, Cody Smith, Brittany Wells, and Kyle Wright. Their faculty advisors are Dr. Ron Madler and Dr. Karl Siebold.

Additional information on the Prescott team is available at

The Daytona Beach student team, at the request of NASA’s Launch Services Program managers, will conduct an experiment that may produce new insights into the prediction of troublesome liquid behavior in fuel tanks, which can cause destabilization of spinning spacecraft. The team will examine liquid slosh in a fuel tank filled to 100% capacity.

“Fuel slosh is an undesirable and expensive problem,” said team leader Nathan Silvernail. “The dynamic motion of liquid propellant and its interaction with the solid body of a spacecraft can produce a rotational instability about the vehicle’s spin axis that can lead to mission failure. ”

The other members of the Daytona Beach student team are Zebair Ali, Brian Curtis, Christine Dailey, Jeffrey Latham, Brian Lenahen, and Natalie Spencer. Their faculty advisor is Dr. Sathya Gangadharan.

Additional information on the Daytona Beach team is available at

The goal of NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program is to increase the number of scientific professionals graduating from U.S. colleges and universities. The student teams are chosen by a review board of NASA scientists and engineers who examine proposals from a substantial pool of applicants from across the nation. For more information, visit

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world’s largest, fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace, offers more than 30 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in its colleges of Arts and Sciences, Aviation, Business, and Engineering. Embry-Riddle educates students at residential campuses in Prescott, Ariz., and Daytona Beach, Fla., through the Worldwide Campus at more than 170 campus centers in the United States, Europe, Canada, and the Middle East, and through online learning. For more information, visit