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Information on RGSFOP and deadlines for application will soon be available on the new program website, http://microgravity
. Readers can also contact Donn G. Sickorez, University Affairs Officer, Johnson Space Center, AH2, Houston, TX 77058; (281) 483-4724; fax (281) 483-9192.
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October 1, 2001
Volume 79, Number 40
CENEAR 79 40 pp. 104-109
ISSN 0009-2347
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Students lose weight, charge batteries as part of NASA's reduced-gravity program


WHAT'S UP? USM's Budzinski floats in NASA's "Weightless Wonder" jet.

There is a laboratory in Houston where the experimental equipment is strapped to the floor for fear that it may float away. The scientists there hover above the machines as they work, some standing on the ceiling and reaching down toward the floor to conduct their research. Even stranger is that this lab has wings and zips along at 350 knots.

What may sound like science fiction is business as usual for the crew of the National Aeronautics & Space Administration's "Weightless Wonder V," a KC-135A turbojet similar to a commercial Boeing 707. The aircraft is used to produce reduced-gravity environments for training astronauts, testing hardware and equipment bound for spaceflight, and evaluating medical protocols for use in space.

This flying laboratory is also used to train students to become scientists. NASA's Reduced-Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program (RGSFOP), based in Houston at Johnson Space Center (JSC) and Ellington Field hangars, gives undergraduate science students the opportunity to conduct experiments of their own design in this special jet.

In early August, a team of chemistry students from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), Hattiesburg, flew in the RGSFOP program and learned that being a chemist can sure be a lot of fun.

USM's chemistry experiment tested the effects of reduced gravity on the movement of plasma arcs produced by an inert gas discharge tube in a glass sphere. The team's hypothesis is that buoyancy-driven convection--fluid or gas flow caused by density gradients created by thermal or concentration gradients in a gravitational field--plays a significant role in the plasma's movement.

Team leader Brian Zoltowski, a chemistry major in his senior year at USM, says one application of the data they gain could be in the design of propulsion systems used in space. "By obtaining a general knowledge of plasma interactions," he says, "one can anticipate what complications may exist and how they differ in microgravity."

BACK ON EARTH Students and journalists (green flight suits) pose with flight crew (blue flight suits) after their flight.

THE STUDENTS' TEST design is fairly straightforward: Take a novelty plasma ball, available inexpensively at any shopping mall, and place it in a sealed container with a videocamera to watch what happens to the plasma arcs. It's simple, it's safe, and that's exactly what NASA wants in its RGSFOP experiments. The research doesn't need to be Nobel-Prize quality, says Donn G. Sickorez, but it needs to be sound and it needs to be student-driven, not the work of their professor. Sickorez, JSC's university affairs officer, is a codirector of RGSFOP.

NASA's reduced-gravity program began in 1959, but the student flights began just five years ago. More than 100 different schools, representing nearly every state in the U.S., have participated so far, many coming back for repeat visits.

RGSFOP was designed to address the U.S.'s shrinking ranks of students graduating with degrees in science, technology, and engineering.

"What we're trying to do is help the next generation of scientists become scientists and engineers," Sickorez says. "It's not an easy road to travel, so we want to give them some incentive and show them that science can be interesting, it can be challenging, and it can be fun. We use the plane and its unique resources to help them along, to help motivate them."

THIS NEXT GENERATION of scientists needs to include representatives from many fields, and so the student flight program is open to any undergraduate team with an appropriate experiment. Most of the experiments have been based in engineering or physics, but there are the occasional materials science and chemistry experiments. This summer, there were only two from those disciplines: the USM team's and one from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, which tested the effect of reduced gravity on the clarity, pore structure, and density of aerogel produced through a rapid gelation process.

Although only an estimated one out of 10 proposals submitted to the RGSFOP office involves chemical analysis or a form of materials research involving chemistry, Sickorez believes the program is a good environment for chemical research.

"If the chemical reaction would be affected by zero g, then, of course, this is a good place for it," Sickorez says. "It's an excellent venue for materials research, some of which involves chemistry."

But whether their experiments are in chemistry or any other field, the participants leave with many benefits, according to Sickorez. "The students learn how to function in a team--and how to put that team together--how to write a proposal, how to wait for the acceptance, how to respond to comments, and how to physically build what was only an idea a few months before." They also learn to work under deadlines, a crucial part of teamwork, he adds.

"When you're in classes, you see parts and pieces. Here, it all flows. You see how it's all put together," Sickorez says.

William J. Ainsworth, a graduate chemistry student at USM who served as the team's ground crew, flew in 1999 as a USM undergraduate. He now flies with the team's faculty adviser, John A. Pojman, who has studied frontal polymerization and miscible fluids in the KC-135A turbojet as part of the original reduced-gravity program for professional researchers.

"This program helped me determine what to do with my life, really," Ainsworth tells C&EN. "It gave me a sense of direction as to where I wanted my career to go." Once indecisive over a career in industry or graduate studies, he's now sure of his choice to return to the classroom, where he's excited about his work and the opportunities that come with it.

Over RGSFOP's short existence, three separate programs have emerged to cover a wide range of students: the original undergraduate program; a separate program for community colleges; and "Fly High," which opened the flights to high school students throughout Texas. But due to budget cuts within NASA, the high school program is being dropped and the community college and university programs rolled into one. NASA absorbs the full cost of the flights, roughly $1,700 per flyer, and the students pay their transportation, lodging, and dining expenses.

During their week in Houston, the students operate from Ellington Field, where they share space in the hangar with the Weightless Wonder itself, an arrangement that gives participants a true behind-the-scenes look at NASA and its vehicles. During the USM students' session, a high-altitude test jet shared the hanger space. And only a week before, crew returning from a Discovery shuttle mission to the International Space Station spent some time in the hangar with the students.

HERE TO HELP Zero-g veteran Yaniec keeps his eyes on floating flyers; a flight surgeon helps C&EN's Kevin MacDermott check the seal on his oxygen mask before a hyperbaric chamber "ride."

The research doesn't need to be Nobel-Prize quality, but it needs to be sound and it needs to be student-driven, not the work of their professor.

RULES GO WITH the privilege of being at Ellington Field. The staff's matter-of-fact presentation usually includes scenarios and outcomes no one wants to encounter. Staying within the designated areas and accounting for all tools and small objects (they could wind up in the one of the jet's engines) are among the most serious.

But there's also the "18-inch rule": Students' test equipment must stay 18 inches off the floor because any leaking fuel fumes, which are heavier than air, collect on the floor. A spark or charge from the students' hardware could set the place ablaze. The building has a sophisticated firefighting system that can be triggered by a single spark, but even then, the place would fill with foam and water.

Preparations for the flight week take months. After a team's initial proposal has been accepted, the team must get to work on major projects such as raising the necessary funds and building the experimental equipment.

In USM's case, building the experimental hardware was fairly simple because some of the equipment had flown in the KC-135A with an earlier group. The largest piece was a stout, cast-aluminum cylinder that was once a stage of the body of a sounding rocket, the Conquest I, that was fired into space several years ago. Within this aluminum casing, the students fit a wooden rack that held the novelty plasma ball and a small video camera. One end of the casing was sealed and bolted; the other end was closed off in the same fashion except for a small utility hole cut in the aluminum baseplate, through which the students ran the power cords of the sphere and camera to a power strip. The video camera was then connected to a portable digital recorder with a small screen that shows a close-up view of the plasma ball and its arcs, which glow a brilliant pink-purple in the blackness of the cylinder.

The analysis and report that JSC requires for its safety preparations are surprisingly complex and thorough. The Test Equipment Data Package, or TEDP, covers everything from structural design elements to potential hazard identification. Every detail must be listed: the length of each bolt, the electrical circuitry's voltage, the gases found in the plasma ball, and the type of wood used in the frame. The TEDP is due to JSC six weeks before the team's scheduled flight week, allowing time for JSC test directors to review the experiment in depth and report any concerns or comments to the students.

The TEDP is the students' study guide. They need to know it and their experiment inside and out for the final Test Readiness Review (TRR), the final experiment check and the one that worried the students most. All groups in the hangar go through TRR at the same time. They sit nervously, waiting for the entourage of pilots, flight surgeons, safety representatives from JSC and Ellington Field, and JSC test directors to arrive at their table to judge the students' months of work.

Safety is the primary concern in the hangar, and the TRR reviewers, looking for potential safety hazards, probe every angle. Groups that have prepared well get off easily, as the USM team did; others get a grilling. The questions can be quite specific, and an unsatisfactory response could prevent a team from flying.

Because the JSC staff will take the time--if time is available--to help the students fix problems, not many teams get grounded by failing the review.

"I've seen a couple hundred student experiments," explains Lead KC-135 Test Director and RGSFOP codirector John S. Yaniec. "But I've also seen two grounded." He leads the TRR reviewers through their rounds and also leads the safety operations surrounding the KC-135A.

With the hardware ready for flight, the students must then prepare themselves. Every flyer is required to pass a physical examination administered by a Federal Aviation Administration-certified physician. But there's also mental preparation to undertake, as they have all heard stories of this infamous jet.

WELL GROUNDED Zoltowski, USM's team leader, fields reviewers' questions about his team's experiment; students from Texas' Orange High School work out a technical problem with classmates as their teacher watches.

NASA MAY HAVE dubbed the jet "Weightless Wonder V," but nearly everyone else calls it the "Vomit Comet," an unappealing name resulting from an unfortunate reality: Many flyers get motion sickness because of the jet's unique flight pattern, which looks like a sine curve and feels like a killer roller-coaster.

Not too long ago, the "kill ratio," as it's called by crew members, was quite high--more people became ill than not. "We've never had a 'no-kill' flight before this year," Yaniec says, "but we've also had some flights where there were 16 out of 18 sick." However, flyers now are better equipped for the flight as a result of extensive briefings on the causes and prevention of motion sickness. Most flyers and crew now take medication before flight as well, a precaution that has dramatically helped reduce the number of ill flyers.

However, according to Yaniec, "You can make yourself sick," he says. "You can also keep yourself from getting sick." It's a matter of expectation and precaution.

All participants attend an hourlong briefing on the mechanics of spatial disorientation, the cause of most cases of motion sickness and certainly the leading culprit on the Vomit Comet. They learn how spatial orientation is determined by the inner ear and tactile and visual cues, and that all of these come into conflict on the jet. The instructor uses demonstrations to make her point, asking volunteers to make multiple movements with their heads and arms as they spin in a chair. The volunteers get a bit loopy, but everyone learns what movements to avoid during their flight: Try to keep your head and body facing the same direction as if you were wearing a neck brace, and don't look out the windows.

Believe it or not, another way to help prevent illness on the flight is to eat before going up. An empty stomach is quicker to irritate than one with contents.

Motion sickness is only one of the medical concerns addressed by program staff. Because the KC-135A flies a dangerous line, there's always the possibility of an in-flight emergency. So the students are briefed on the host of maladies they could suffer in such situations, and they learn of the physical laws that explain these events. Most physiological problems involved with flight and altitude can be explained through gas laws such as Boyle's law of trapped gas expansion, Henry's law of evolved gases, Dalton's law of total and partial pressures, and the laws of gaseous diffusion.

The most likely emergency scenario would be a loss of cabin pressure. Like any commercial airliner, the KC-135A's cabin is pressurized to a level that a passenger's body needs to maintain a proper level of oxygen in the blood. The pressure is roughly the equivalent of breathing at 8,000 feet, slightly less than what most people are accustomed to on the ground.

WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS USM flyers Zoltowski and Leard make a video to use in outreach to Mississippi students.
CHECK IT OUT USM's Budzinski and Carter pose with their experiment during an in-flight break.
THE HIGHER a jet flies, the more important the pressure inside the cabin becomes, because the pressure outside is decreasing with increasing altitude, making the air less dense and less breathable. If the jet's pressurized cabin were to spring a leak, hypoxia--a state of oxygen deficiency in the blood, tissues, and cells sufficient to cause an impairment of mental and body functions--would set in quickly. After a loss of cabin pressure, an individual in a jet flying at roughly 25,000 feet--the lower end of the KC-135A's flight range--has a time of useful consciousness of between three and five minutes. After that, the individual has lost the ability to function deliberately.

JSC shows the students what it's like to have hypoxia by giving it to them.

"You have to be aware of what's going to happen to your body," explains Javier Roque, a JSC medical officer. He gave the students a thorough explanation of what to expect and why they should expect it, listing more than a dozen symptoms such as dizziness, mental confusion, slurred speech, tunnel vision, blurred sight, cyanosis (a bluing of the lips and extremities), and hot and cold flashes. What they would probably notice most, he told them, was a feeling of euphoria--the experience sounds bad, but it doesn't feel so.

"One of the first things to go is your vision," he says. "But will you admit it? Probably not." The participants often don't recognize the many symptoms of hypoxia, and some are reluctant to acknowledge the ones they do notice.

Under the strict supervision of flight surgeons and veteran Air Force pilots, all students in the RGSFOP program "take a ride" in a hyperbaric chamber at JSC's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, the same building that houses a four-story-deep swimming pool in which astronauts practice working in their spacesuits on submerged mock-ups of the space shuttle and space station modules. Once fitted with oxygen masks and headgear, a dozen undergraduates and two journalists follow Roque into the hyperbaric chamber, a metal box the size of a small room with several windows. They're joined by two former pilots who will watch over the students.

When everyone is in their seats and all masks and communications cords are plugged into place, the chamber occupants spend a half hour breathing pure oxygen to decrease the concentration of nitrogen in the body. Nitrogen makes up 78% of the air we breathe. Harmless in everyday breathing, it can cause trouble for anyone who changes elevation significantly because it forms bubbles in the bloodstream that will expand with the decrease in air pressure.

Operators then begin removing the air from the chamber, dropping the pressure at a rate that simulates a jet climbing at 5,000 feet per minute. At 10,000 feet, a mist forms in the chamber, and the students' eyes get big as they gauge each other's reactions. The cloud disappears quickly, as the chamber operators pump in a bit of ambient air to keep the temperature inside from dropping too fast. There's a bit of chatter through the microphones in the masks, but most of the students sit quietly and wait for instructions. A surgeon outside the chamber quizzes the students on gas laws and physiology definitions, but no one is quick to answer. The surgeon is not fazed by the silence: Most students are anxious, so he keeps talking to ease their nerves.

When the chamber reaches 25,000 feet, so to speak, half the students unclip their oxygen masks, breathing only the thinned air in the chamber. They're allowed to be "off air" for up to five minutes before putting the masks back on. Each student is given a clipboard, pencil, and an activity sheet full of math problems, trivia questions, and small puzzles. A box on the right side of the page is reserved for writing down symptoms, which the students are to document as soon as they appear.

Everyone reacts to hypoxia differently. One student becomes completely unresponsive, staring at the floor until a pilot replaces his mask and turns his air back on. Most of the students, however, either focus intently on the clipboard activities or ignore them completely, watching their peers with sleepy eyes and giggling--euphoria had set in. It's quite a show for those still wearing masks.

After five minutes, the three JSC staff in the chamber replace the masks of anyone who is still off air; then the second half of the group takes its turn.

FINALLY, IT'S FLIGHT TIME. "You're joining a unique club today," Yaniec tells the flyers. This final briefing is as much pep talk as it is informative. Dressed in flight suits and ready to go, the students get the details of their flight over the Gulf of Mexico: how far out they will be, how high, how many parabolas before a turnaround. They also get a review of motion sickness prevention tips and reassurance from Yaniec.

"When you're on this airplane, you're my family," he says. "We'll take care of you."

By "we," Yaniec means the large flight crew that will accompany the students: engineers, cameramen, and medical staff. There are almost as many crew members as noncrew on the flight.

Two flyers from each university team of four are flying this day. The remaining two will fly the next day, weather permitting. They walk out to the jet together, and everyone is so excited that they're indifferent to the Texas heat and the loud whirring of the Coast Guard helicopter by the next hangar.

Once on the jet, however, it's another story. The 12 flyers and eight crew file to the passenger seats at the back of the cabin. It's hot back there, and it's loud, too, during takeoff. Earplugs muffle but don't eliminate the hum of the KC-135A's four large engines. Anxious students chatter and sweat; the flight crew sits back and relaxes--they've all done this many times before. Yaniec, for example, has flown more than 19,000 parabolas, though they're not all from the student flight program.

But the crew's collective sense of humor isn't as reassuring. They take bets on the flight's kill ratio, several guesses hitting five out of 12.

Before placing his bet, Yaniec turns back to the seats and asks, "How many of you ate lunch today?" All hands go up. "Then I'll take 10," he says, grinning widely.

When the jet levels out at the appropriate altitude, the crew prepares for the parabolas and the students sit or lie on the floor near their experimental gear, which has been strapped down. Many flyers opt to be strapped to the floor as well, as they're advised to ride out the first two or three parabolas on the floor to get used to the feel. Several unzip their flight suits, even though the cabin is cooler now because of the altitude. They take the white "flight etiquette" bags they were issued during the motion sickness briefing and stick them in their suits' many pockets, leaving the ends hanging out for quick access.

The jet flies 32 parabolic arcs during its flight over the Gulf of Mexico. The path is a straight line determined that morning, and the pilots fly several parabolas in a row before turning around and flying the next set in the opposite direction. Each parabola consists of a climb, a peak, and a dive. The dives and climbs are done at angles between 45 and 60 degrees and altitudes between 26,000 and 34,000 feet, each averaging 8,000 feet. Flight speed is 350 knots.

At the peak of each parabola, as the jet levels off and begins to dive, there is roughly 20 seconds of zero g: weightlessness. But the 55-second pairs of dives and climbs reach 1.8 g, or almost twice the gravity on Earth, a force strong enough to pin you to the floor if you're not accustomed to it.

Five student teams are on board this flight, including a high school team from Orange, Texas, held over from the last high school flight week this spring because of technical difficulties with the jet. Other teams come from West Virginia University; a joint effort between the University of Alabama, Huntsville, and the California Institute of Technology; USM; and Montana State University.

Nearly all of the team members stay on the floor during the first parabola. Just as the jet hits a parabolic peak and enters zero g, a second set of interior lights come on, serving as a visual cue for those who can't hear the audible warnings over the engines. The lights come on, and the flyers' stomachs rise high in their abdomens, just like when a car crests a sharp hill too fast and then drops a bit on the other side. This may be the only time during the parabolas that one can feel the jet's orientation in the sky. There are a few small windows, but no one wants to look out for fear of creating spatial disorientation and thus a need for their white bags.

Though they were warned, some of the flyers get up off the floor for the second parabola, and the force of the movement rockets them to the ceiling. Padding protects flyers from impacts, but the flyers can still find other ways to injure themselves.

"Feet down, coming out!" When Yaniec yells this warning, flyers have roughly three seconds to orient themselves with their feet toward the floor. If they're too slow, they crash to the floor when the jet enters the 1.8-g period, falling like a rock. During 1.8 g, the best place to be is either sitting against the walls or lying on the floor, keeping your head and shoulders aligned and minimizing your movements.

By the third or fourth parabola, the students have gotten used to the concept of weightlessness and the idea of limiting movement and can enjoy the sensation.

"Floating is unlike anything that I've ever felt before, and so far, I have found it very difficult to describe," Kayce Leard says. A senior and a biochemistry major at USM, Leard flew with Zoltowski during USM's first flight day.

"The closest sensation to floating," she says, "would have to be swimming underwater. However, in microgravity, your body feels no resistance, as it does underwater."

HANGING OUT Students work on their experiments in the hangar they shared with the reduced-gravity jet.

LEARD'S HAIR FLOATS over her head as she and Zoltowski check on their experiment to make sure the camera is recording and the plasma arcs are acting as predicted. They watch the activity in the plasma ball during the both the zero-g and 1.8-g periods. After a few minutes, the JSC videographer swings by to record the experiment. Videocamera rolling on his shoulder, he leans over the aluminum casing almost as though he's preparing to do a somersault over it, but when his feet come up over his head, he plants them on the ceiling, and there he stands, completely inverted, filming the little VCR screen filled with dancing arcs.

The sight is surreal, as is everything in the jet's cabin during zero g. Like an Escher drawing, perspective is skewed. People are crawling along the ceiling, sitting high on the walls, standing normally on the floor, or hovering in the middle space.

After 30 normal parabolas, the pilots fly two more, and these simulate lunar g (one-sixth g) and martian g (one-third g). The flyers hop up and down from the floor, the jump time extended by the reduced gravity. There's a little more float time in the lunar g--it's more noticeable, at least.

Then the flight's over. It lasted 1.7 flight hours, although it felt like only a few minutes. Before the flight left the runway, Yaniec gave the students a last insight. "You are going to come out of this thinking, 'Gravity stinks.' " And for the first few moments back on the runway, he was right. Several students later told C&EN that their first thoughts upon landing were, How do I top an experience like that?

On the second flight day, the second set of students fly. Now is their chance to see what their teammates who flew the day before raved about. The remaining USM flyers--Nicholas Carter, a senior, and Kristi Budzinski, a junior, both chemistry majors--aren't as nervous as the first two, having seen them return unharmed.

When the second flight has left the runway, those on the ground return to the RGSFOP briefing room, where they watch the action in the jet's cabin by live-feed video. The students on the ground can communicate with those in the air by a telephone link once the airborne students have put on microphones and headsets, a necessity because of the roar in the KC-135A's cabin. Some use the link for fun; others use it to conduct work. The Orange High School group, for example, had trouble with their onboard machinery--a computer-driven lathe that shaped brass ingots to shapes determined by the high school students--and they were able to work it out by talking to their colleagues on the ground.

The USM students used the connection time to confirm the experimental data. While floating above the aluminum casing, Carter announces, "I can't really tell what's happening with the sphere." A few seconds later, during a 1.8-g pullout, he notices a change in the plasma arcs' behavior: "Whoa! Now they're going crazy down there!"

THESE TWO STUDENTS had an equally tough time describing their encounter with weightlessness. "It's almost impossible to describe," Budzinski confirmed. "My whole body just felt light. I had no restrictions in my movements. It was like floating on water, only without the water."

Carter says, "It was just like being Superman for a short time. You can do just about anything imaginable that you can only dream of on Earth." Both Carter and Budzinski, and Zoltowski and Leard before them, got to try some of these unimaginable movements, such as multiple front flips and propelling themselves across the cabin, arms stretched out in front of them--just like Superman.

When the flights were over, the USM students retrieved their experiment and made the long drive back to Hattiesburg. They said goodbye to new friends, many of whom were in the second batch of flyers and had yet to go up.

There was lots to do upon arrival at USM. The students ran their video data through specialized software that gave them numerical values for the plasma arcs' movement. Then they had to submit a follow-up report to RGSFOP, explaining the results of the experiment and justifying the research.

The fifth member of the flight group, alternate flyer and biology major Chrisina Watters, now has an additional project to complete. Although she didn't get to fly, she was also energized by the experience. In the weeks following the flight, she and some fellow biology students were working on a proposal they planned to submit, Watters tells C&EN.

"We're thinking about something with jellyfish or brine shrimp and their ability to determine their orientation and move in a reduced-gravity environment," she says.

It wouldn't be the first biology experiment. For example, the University of Wyoming flew a team this summer that tested the effect of zero g on short-term binding of Pseudomonas aeruginosa to beef and to catheter tubing.

"If they write a proposal, and it's good, sound science, they have an excellent chance of being selected," Sickorez says. "We'll take them, and we'll do what they want because our goal is to develop and motivate scientists."

THE CURRENT ACCEPTANCE rate for proposals is close to 80%. However, RGSFOP plans to cut back the number of student flights next year, Sickorez says. There are currently 11 flight weeks each year, with roughly 120 student groups flying. That's 480 student flyers.

"We can't support that with the current budget shortfalls," Sickorez explains. "So we're trying for six flight weeks--four in the spring and two in the summer, supporting between 60 and 70 teams."

Teams have a much stronger chance of acceptance to the program if they propose a good outreach program to carry out after the flight. RGSFOP requires those who participate in their program to tell others about it. The proposals are weighted 30 points out of 100 for the proposed outreach plan; the remainder of the points are for safety and scientific merit.

USM's plans for outreach include a program they've named SURGE, an acronym for Students Understanding Reduced-Gravity Environments. SURGE is a full-day demonstration, to which the USM students will invite local middle and high school students.

"We are hoping to perform some simple drop experiments with the kids to demonstrate microgravity and to give them a hands-on experience with it," Budzinski says. They also plan to show their flight videos, which JSC supplies to each team.

Watters tells C&EN that the team is also discussing a possible trip to her hometown of Mobile, Ala., where they would make a presentation to high school students. This is RGSFOP's best advertising.

"This program revealed to us the level of intensity needed to participate in the scientific workforce," Budzinski says. "We learned the difficulty of writing a proposal, the importance of deadlines, and the difficulty of making the transition from proposal to actual experiment," she adds.

On a personal note, Budzinski adds: "I worry so much about my grade-point average, financial aid, grad school, and so many other things that I sometimes forget why I ever wanted to study chemistry. The NASA program made me remember how much I enjoy experimentation, theory, and the scientific pursuit of knowledge."

"The opportunity to meet students from other parts of the country and to learn how things are done differently is also interesting," Watters notes.

Leard tells C&EN: "I think the entire team developed a real sense for why we're in the field that we're in. Personally, I have become more enthusiastic about my major since we returned from the trip. Knowing that science and technology made an experience like this possible is real encouragement for those of us who are trying to make a career out of it."

"I would participate in the program again--absolutely," Carter says. "It is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and probably the most interesting thing I've ever done."

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Information on RGSFOP and deadlines for application will soon be available on the new program website, Readers can also contact Donn G. Sickorez, University Affairs Officer, Johnson Space Center, AH2, Houston, TX 77058; (281) 483-4724; fax (281) 483-9192.


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