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Bordeaux Blog
Cool Runnings and the 45th ESA Parabolic Flight Campaign
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Tuesday, 24 October 2006 -- First Zero G Flight Day

This morning we arrived at Novespace at 07:00h. We immediately went to the plane to start the vacuum pump for our experiment, make a final check of the pistons, and run through the computer program. At 08:15h the list of flyers for the flight were finalized for all teams. Medication to help with motion sickness during the flight was administered at 08:30h by the onsite doctor. Last minutes runs to the restroom were made since there is no toilet on board the aircraft! All flight participants boarded before 09:00h, at which point the doors to the aircraft were shut. A minor technical error in the cockpit caused a short delay of one half hour. But this was quickly corrected and we were soon on our way. Today, because the weather is nice, we will fly over the Atlantic in a special military air space in order to perform the parabolic maneuver.

About 10 minutes into the flight, we were allowed to leave our seats at the front of the plane and proceed to our experiments. We powered everything on and waited for the first parabola. We were flying with two experienced zero g team members and one newbie. The first parabola, the 0th, is a test run for unexperienced flyers. The pilot counts down to the pull-up phase where the plane experiences 2g (two times the gravity on the ground). Flyers are advised to lie down and focus on a single spot in the plane. Doing otherwise risks a long, miserable flight due to motion sickness. The pilot announces the angle of inclination until "injection" when the 0g period begins. At this point you are lifted off of the floor for about 22 seconds of microgravity before the pilot calls out "pull-out". During pull-out you once again experience a 2g force, and you are advised to lie down and remain still once again. When 1g is reached, a whoosh of air sounds around the plane and you can return to normal acitivities.

We require 3 flyers for our experiment. We have 2 to operate the computers: one computer for a special high-speed camera to record our ice and dust collisions, and a second to operate the experiment including recording the temperature, pressure, backup images (with a backup digital camera), and most importantly, initiating the pistons before each collision. These two flyers are located between our experiment rack (the vacuum chamber with the samples) and the support, or control, rack.

Our computer controllers.

Our third flyer sits on the other side of the support rack and manually aligns the particle storage device before each collision. Coordination between the team members was so smooth that although we expected only to observe 1-2 collisions per parabola, we actually achieved 4 collisions in some cases. At this rate, we actually completed all possible collisions for the setup that was intended for today that in the final 4 parabolas we were able to snap some photos and video of the experience.

Fortunately for our team, none of our flyers felt ill during the flight. Other teams were not as lucky and we counted as many as 7 individuals that had to take a seat, and many bags, for the remainder of the flight. Our flight returned to Bordeaux airport at 13:15h.

To see a short video of our first parabola at work, click on the following .WMV file, which is about 22MB. To see a shorter video taken during the last parabola, when the experiment was completed, watch this .MOV file, which is about 3.5 MB.

Following the flight, each team's flyers grabbed some lunch before a de-briefing at 14:15pm. Everyone was informed of each team's success and difficulties during flight, as well as any changes in the parabola schedule that would help benefit an experiment. Generally there is a couple of minutes between each parabola with longer breaks between parabolas 10 and 11, and parabolas 20 and 21. No major changes were suggested although tomorrow the flight is expected to be much longer due to weather conditions in the Bordeaux area. If this is the case, then we will fly to the Mediterranean to perform the flight.

This evening the team will analyze the data, make any necessary experiment adjustments, and prepare the samples for tomorrow's flight. Stay tuned...

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