Press Release

NASA Selects Norfolk School to Fly Aboard ‘Weightless Wonder’

By SpaceRef Editor
February 24, 2009
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HAMPTON, Va. – Ever wish you could float in space? Four local teachers will get that experience – thanks to their students.

NASA has selected Oceanair Elementary School in Norfolk, Va., to fly a student-designed experiment aboard the agency’s reduced gravity aircraft, the “Weightless Wonder,” on Friday, Feb. 27.

Oceanair will join ten other NASA Explorer School teams from across the country selected for this unique learning experience to test science and math concepts in a weightless laboratory. The modified McDonnell Douglas DC-9 jetliner will fly a series of parabolic maneuvers–steep climbs followed by sharp descents. Each climb will produce about 30 seconds of hyper gravity, ranging from 1.8 to 2 g. When the C-9 “noses over,” each free fall will produce 18 to 25 seconds of weightlessness. The teams will fly about 32 parabolas.

A team of four Oceanair educators will travel to NASA’s aircraft facility at Ellington Field and the Johnson Space Center in Houston for the flight. Teachers are performing the experiment on behalf of their students due to an age requirement of 18 years or older. The Oceanair team will execute the student-designed experiment aboard the aircraft to see how microgravity affects the density of liquids.

“The students designed an experiment on density. We are investigating the effect of gravity on materials of different densities,” said Colleen Orman, one of the Oceanair educators that will be onboard the aircraft.

The fifth-grade students created fluid columns using corn syrup, water and vegetable oil, and created sediment tubes with sand, gravel and dirt. They predicted how both the liquids and solids would react in microgravity, Earth’s gravity, and hyper gravity.

“The goal of the NASA Explorer School Program is to train the next generation of explorers. These flights are an illustration of how NASA can connect space, math and science to classrooms on Earth,” said Rudo Kashiri, NASA Explorer Schools Coordinator at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

Oceanair was selected as a NASA Explorer School in 2006, giving the school an opportunity to propose a reduced gravity experiment. The program enables schools and their communities to work with NASA in a three-year partnership to develop the nation’s future science, technology, engineering and mathematics work force.

For the past two years, Oceanair has been partnering with Langley Research Center on integrating NASA content into lesson plans and taking advantage of opportunities such as live web casts via NASA’s Digital Learning Network on subjects ranging from “Cars in Space” to “Rocket Science.”

With the explorer schools program, NASA continues the agency’s tradition of investing in the nation’s education programs to encourage student pursuit of disciplines critical to NASA’s future engineering, scientific and technical missions.

For more information on NASA Explorer Schools, visit:

For more information on other NASA Reduced Gravity Programs, visit:

For more information on NASA Langley, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.