Northrop Grumman launches weightless program for teacher education
Teachers from around the world can experience first hand the application of math, science and engineering principles in a weightless or low-gravity space environment under the new Northrop Grumman Corp. Weightless Flights of Discovery program.
The program, the first of its kind, includes hands-on science workshops and the opportunity to participate in a parabolic flight that creates temporary weightlessness comparable to what is experienced during space travel to the moon or Mars. It is also similar to how astronauts train for space flight.
Forty teachers took part in the inaugural workshops, held in June at Kennedy Space Center. This year, 240 teachers from all 50 states and at least 15 countries are expected to go through the program.
Northrop Grumman is sponsoring the Weightless Flights of Discovery in cooperation with Zero Gravity Corp. of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Plans call for Zero-G to conduct teacher workshops and parabolic flights in Huntsville, Ala., San Diego, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C. The next workshops are scheduled for the week of July 23 in Huntsville, with flights planned for July 28-29.
Teachers receive pre-flight training in weightlessness and experiment design where they learn how astronauts and scientists work in lunar, Martian and other low gravity environments. They also learn how to relate those experiments to science, engineering, technology and mathematics curricula development.
On flight day, teachers conduct their experiments on board Zero-G’s specially-modified aircraft, G-Force One. After the flight, teachers evaluate the process and discuss outcomes of the flight and curriculum plans.
Cathy Hardesty, an 8th grade science teacher at Hill-Gustat Middle School in Sebring, Fla., was one of the teachers who participated in the inaugural flights. She is excited about using her experiences to float space exploration concepts by her students.
“The Northrop Grumman program is sure to have a dramatic effect on students and their comprehension of basic scientific concepts,” she said. “No textbook, not even the greatest science teachers of all time, can really open a student’s eyes wide to principles such as Newton’s laws of motion. For my students to see their own teacher on video conducting experiments in zero gravity lets them know that there are no limits to what they can do, including becoming a scientist or engineer.”
The parabolic flights are performed in dedicated airspace 100 miles long by 10 miles wide. Specially trained pilots fly the aircraft in a series of maneuvers called parabolas, or arcs, between the altitudes of 24,000 and 32,000 feet. At the beginning of each parabola, the aircraft climbs at a 45° angle. At the top of the parabola, the aircraft is pushed over into a controlled descent that creates a temporary perception of zero gravity, although technically the participants are falling.
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