LOGAN -- A Utah State University student team will ride aboard NASA's "vomit comet" again this summer.
"We were very surprised and just very happy," says Ryan Martineau, student project leader. "Our proposal for the 2012 program was initially rejected. But we received word from NASA that additional funds recently became available and our team was chosen due to our existing successful hardware and student eligibility."
This July's field trip will mark USU students' third consecutive summer venture to Houston's Johnson Space Center. Utah State is one of about 15 college teams selected nationally to participate in the 2012 Microgravity University, formally known as the Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program. The students will spend more than a week in astronaut training at Johnson Space Center before experiencing microgravity flight.
The team's experiment, called "Follow-Up Nucleate Boiling On-flight Experiment 2.5" or FUNBOE 2.5, builds on the team's 2010 and 2011 experiments and an experiment that flew on Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2001.
"We were very successful in collecting data during our 2010 and 2011 microgravity flights, but there are still things we want to know," said Martineau, an aerospace and mechanical engineering major who flew on the microgravity jet last summer.
Martineau will go as an alternate this time, part of a group that will include USU students Brycen Mills, Eric Tores, Jacob Kullberg, Jon Thorne and Chris Trumbull. The group will be in Houston July 13-21.
Aboard NASA's specially modified 727 jet, the Aggies will experience weightlessness as the plane follows a parabolic flight path, repeatedly climbing to and diving from 32,000 feet in a series of about 32 controlled free falls above the Gulf of Mexico. Martineau experienced weightlessness on the 2011 trip.
The manuevers can produce airsickness in those aboard, giving the plane its nickname.
"I remember the first parabola just felt like a mix of 'Huh?' and 'Whoa,' " he said. "To me, it just felt like for the first time in my life I was free from a constraint that I didn't know I could live without."
The FUNBOE experiments examine fundamental questions about boiling water and other liquids in space. FUNBOE 2.5 will continue to test an idea of cooling using boiling heat transfer on a micro-fabricated silicon chip, along with measuring critical heat flux.
"In zero gravity, bubbles don't go up anymore," said Troy Munro, who made the trip with USU teams the last two years. "We want to make this chip that will form a small bubble, and we want to control it so the heat will grow that bubble. We're also looking at thin wires and how bubbles come off those. It's all related to trying to control how we can move heat away from equipment."
Munro won't travel to Houston this year because he and his wife are expecting a baby about the same time. Munro did say the group is looking for a way to symbolically memorialize Robert Barnett, a former team member who passed away from unknown causes.
Now the question is whether the experiment can be ready by July.
"We have successful hardware we have flown before, but we still have to change a few things for what we proposed to do," Martineau said. "We had six months from the time of the proposal, but now we have just two months to do six months of work. But there's a lot of excitement and energy behind it now. We've got a few loose ends to fix, then everything should be ready to go."
Martineau said when NASA got some extra funding, the agency thought of USU.
"I think it says something about Utah State's reputation," he said. "It's not just this team. We've repeatedly been able to do hard things and make a name for ourselves. NASA felt they could rely on USU to do this right."