Vomit Comet Blog: Tuesday, May 9, 2006

posted by Vinaya

Take-off! Today was the first of the World Year of Physics reduced gravity flights. One down, three to go. Tomorrow's my day to fly and I CAN'T WAIT! Honestly, I'm getting just a little nervous, but I'm more excited than anything else. Here's hoping that I won't use the two airsickness bags predicted by my co-workers. (Thanks for your vote of confidence, guys!)

Motion sickness bags

Motion sickness bags, complete with "gover-lingo" instructions.

Today we got to experience what the next four days will be like. After our 7:15 a.m. briefing (NASA does like early meetings!), the teams had a few minutes to make some final adjustments to their experiments before the flight.

The Glenbrook Team makes last minute adjustments.

The Glenbrook Team makes last minute adjustments.

The Roosevelt Team making sure everything works.

The Roosevelt Team making sure everything works.

Final lockdown for the Beaumont team.

Final lockdown for the Beaumont team.

In the briefing today, we found out that this morning's flight was to be delayed a little bit. NASA was expecting a VIP to fly into Ellington Field. (It was NASA #3 in charge, Associate Administrator Rex Geveden. He came in to see the Reduced Gravity plane and some other stuff.) He was in and out before we knew it and everything proceeded on scheduled. Following the briefing, was our daily medical briefing, where the NASA flight doc administered the anti-nausea medication and again told us how to avoid motion sickness. The flight briefing was next. The pilots, photographers and researchers discussed what was going to happen and what needed to be done during each parabola. While our briefings were going on, they finally brought the C-9 out of the hangar.

Tomorrow, I'll discuss more about the pre-flight briefings. They will be "my" briefings, and I'm sure I'll have a lot to say...provided, of course, that I remember what was said.

All the teams and the students turned out to "send off" the first flight. We (all the non-flyers) waited out on the tarmac while the ground crew made final maintenance checks and adjustments. It was HOT out there, and humid. But we had to endure the heat and humidity if we wanted to see the first flight off. Finally, the flight crew boarded the plane. (The pilots had been on board for some time. The other members of the "flying" crew boarded just prior to the teams.) The teams followed. They raised the stairs and were ready to go.

The C-9 takes her first trip out of the hangar since our arrival.

The C-9 takes her first trip out of the hangar since our arrival.

The first teams load the plane.

The first teams load the plane.

Barreling down the runway for FL: 240 over the Gulf of Mexico

Barreling down the runway for FL: 240 over the Gulf of Mexico

The engines fired up and the C-9 taxied down the runway. We could barely see the plane through the haze shimmering off the runway. The slightly overcast sky made it even harder to see the white plane. We were able to hear the engines powering up for take-off, before we saw her moving down the runway. From that distance, it didn't look like she was moving very fast, but she was. She finally passed us on the runway, on her way up into the overcast sky toward the Gulf of Mexico.

After we watched the plane disappear, we made our way back into the air conditioned office. And then we waited...

About two hours later, our first flight returned. We had three kills on this flight. Kills is the term for anyone who got sick. We had three people who got sick. But they didn't get so sick that they couldn't get their data. It's a good thing that each experiment flies twice. The experiments all had to be adjusted for more accurate data tomorrow.

After they've unloaded the plane, she's immediately hangared for maintenance. This is one of the most maintained planes in the world. (It better be, if I'm flying on it tomorrow.) Stories were exchanged about the flight...tips given to those flying tomorrow and reminders of what needed to be done on the experiments. The post-flight briefing ( I wasn't there, but will let you know tomorrow what was discussed) was followed by a very interesting presentation by astronaut Don Pettit.

Don talked about his "Saturday Morning Science" projects that were performed on the ISS. He had pictures and video of some very interesting things. I hope I can find them on NASA's website to post here...but he didn't make it sound easy. Anyway, during his six months on the ISS, he conducted many, many experiences...several of them having to do with physics. He showed us some fluid mechanics experiments that he did, demonstrating weightlessness's effect on the viscosity of water. VERY COOL. All the teachers and the students (and I!), really enjoyed his pictures from space.

Well today's post is a little shorter. Mostly because I didn't want to give anything away. I was a bystander today. But tomorrow...tomorrow, I get to fly. Better get my prescribed rest...and gotta stay hydrated, because tomorrow I fly!

Time until flight: T-minus 12 hours, 4 minutes, 16 seconds and counting...

 Astronaut Don Pettit

Astronaut Don Pettit