- When Emilie Laiche was asked to fill the final spot on a
University of Southern Mississippi undergraduate team conducting
biology research aboard NASA's KC-135 aircraft known
affectionately as "The Vomit Comet" her answer
is just something you don't pass up," Laiche said, her
eyes twinkling in anticipation of the flight that will simulate
zero gravity for about 20 seconds at a time as it conducts
nearly 40 parabolic arcs over the Gulf of Mexico.
biology major from New Orleans will join a team of five other
students from Southern Miss that will travel to Johnson Space
Center in Houston March 13-22 to take part in NASA's 2003
Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program (RGSFOP).
of two groups, a flight crew and a ground crew, the team will
try to resolve some unanswered issues that evolved from an
experiment Southern Miss undergraduates performed last year in the same
the 2002 flight, Southern Miss biology students investigated
altered lighting conditions and the effect of altered gravity
conditions both microgravity (zero g-forces) and hypergravity
(1.8 g-forces) on jellyfish.
faculty adviser, biology professor Patricia Biesiot, said
that during last year's experiment, a comb jelly and a jellyfish
medusa were both affected by the altered gravity conditions.
hypothesis is that comb jellies are able to sense the changes
in gravity and the changes in lighting and that they swim
in response to these changes," said graduate student
Michelle Melnick of Memphis, Tenn.
sake, the team will videotape the entire experiment, allowing
them to review the results back at Johnson Space Center. But
that's not all videotaping will allow them to do, said team
member Jennifer Anderson, a graduate student in marine biology.
designed the apparatus to be self-contained so we could have
fun," said Anderson, who will not participate in the
flight itself but will act as part of the two-person ground
crew. Although she won't be going up this year, Anderson,
one of three students returning from last year's team, said
that experiencing weightlessness is like nothing imaginable.
there are no words to describe it," she said. "Not
floating in water, nothing."
team leader Michael Dodge, who also participated last year,
"It's pretty intense."
the flight itself might be short about one hour
preparation for the trip is not. To ensure maximum safety,
NASA requires all students to undergo an eight-hour training
course. About 69 different teams from around the nation that
are participating in the flight program learn about the vestibular
system and gas exchanges in other words, the mechanics
that earned the KC-135 the moniker, "Vomit Comet."
not the microgravity that makes you sick," said graduate
student Brian Ortman, also member of last year's team. "It's
the alternating G-forces that do it." To help team members
combat the queasy effects of the flight, NASA administers
a drug to all participants, called Scopedex, a mixture of
depressants and stimulants.
a junior from Bay St. Louis, said: "The depressant is
so you won't get sick and the stimulant is so you won't fall
asleep. Last year, our flight was what they call a no-kill
flight,' which means no one got sick. We were the fifth flight
in a row where nobody got sick."
said that getting sick is the only real hazard. Thanks to
NASA's stringent safety precautions and mandatory training
courses, Anderson said she felt "safer on the plane than
I did on the ground."
or no hazards, Daniel Pocase said he can't wait to experience
weightlessness for the first time. "How many people get
to fly with NASA?" said Pocase, a junior biology major
from Mobile, Ala.