Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Teaching From Space Flight Week

Back in February a friend of mine sent me an email about an opportunity to fly an experiment on NASA's Vomit Comet.  It sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime by the few vague details that were supplied.  Little did I know what I was really getting into.  One of my students wanted to test bubbles in gravity and microgravity to see which ones would last longer and why.  I thought it was unique and different.  Writing the proposal wasn't too difficult and I had some great help from my friends, but like I said, I didn't really know what we would be doing.  I just thought we would be floating around the plane conducting fun little experiments.  That couldn't be farther from the truth.  After we were accepted the paperwork started flooding in.  Hazard analysis, engineering specs for our materials, and the biggest stress creator of all... the Test Equipment Data Package (TEDP).  So far, this is a 30 page report on every single tiny detail on how our bubble experiment is safe to fly.  Obviously this is what they should do to keep everyone safe, but I have never been so stressed out (at one time to the point of tears) over a professional development opportunity.  However, thanks to some amazing teammates and people in the community, we made it through. We submitted our final report last week, but I received an email today from Johnson space center that we have some things to fix.  Thankfully, they assign you a NASA mentor to help write this TEDP so you can actually get approved to fly your experiment.  Most of what they said we had to fix I have no clue what they are talking about.  They even said that some of our formatting was "unacceptable".  So now we have more work to do, but I know it will be worth it in then end.  I know we are not engineers, but this has been a good learning experience about what engineers and scientists have to go through to fly an experiment on the vomit comet or the space station. It is very tedious and detailed, but this has given a good glimps into the world of NASA and scientific exploration. A word of advice for teachers wanting to pursue this experience.... be very prepared, have a clear SIMPLE plan, have hard working teammates, and be ready to get your hands dirty.  I wish we could have started this in August instead of getting approved March 30th.  I think it will be worth it in the end and I am grateful to NASA for the chance at this, but I'm not sure if I will pursue it again.

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