Emily heads to NASA

Posted on: 6:06 pm, May 10, 2012, by , updated on: 11:46pm, May 10, 2012



NASA invited 4Warn Storm Team Meteorologist Emily Sutton and KFOR-TV photographer Shauna to Microgravity University at NASA’s Headquarters in Houston, Texas to cover the Oklahoma State “Space Cowboys.”

The Space Cowboys are a group of eight aerospace engineering students and a professor who work on research projects for NASA in zero gravity (also known as microgravity).

Although this is not their first time to test an experiment for NASA, this is the first time NASA allowed a journalist to tag along.

They chose News Channel 4 HD and Meteorologist/reporter Emily Sutton.

Using three motion-sensing cameras, the OSU Space Cowboys will test motion in zero gravity.

NASA will apply this data and technology towards space suits of the FUTURE!

The following is Emily Sutton’s account of what it was like to see the core of NASA’s headquarters and feel weightless for the first time.

We just boarded the plane from OKC to NASA! NASA…here we come!

We’re here! Watch out NASA…here we come.  Shauna and I arrived to Clear
Lake, just outside of Houston Thursday evening. We had a delicious dinner
at a local seafood joint (thanks KFOR!) and hit the hay early.  We had to
get ready for a big day ahead!

Day 1: Friday, April 20, 2012

We got up at 6am….waaaayyy to early in my opinion, but I was excited to
see NASA and finally meet the OSU Space Cowboys.  After a bit of confusion
with the directions, we found the Gilruth Center where we met up with the
gang and got our official NASA badges and credentials.

Meet the whole crew! OSU Space Cowboys & KFOR-TV.

After that, Shauna stayed with the three ground crew members and I hopped on the shuttle to Johnson Space Center auditorium for Physiological training. This info is
classified…but basically, we covered hypoxia or the loss of oxygen and
how it impacts the human body. We watched a YouTube video from the FAA in
Oklahoma exemplifying these effects….basically we watched people pass
out.  Is this what I have to look forward to?! I hope not! We also learned
all about how changes in air pressure affect the sinuses and other parts
of the body.  Finally, we covered motion sickness and ways to prevent it
from happening.  All I know is that I am going to have a light meal the
night before the flight!

Mission Control

During the lunch break we tried to be productive and catch an interview
with a NASA spokesperson about the educational programs including OSU’s SEED
(Systems Engineer Development) program.

Like most science programs, NASA loves acronyms! Here’s the cool part…she
let us do the interview in the original Master Control room where “Houston,
we have a problem” was first heard. It was a really magical feeling to know
this is where the master control watched the first man land on the moon and
where master control helped get the astronauts of Apollo 13 safely back to
Earth.  And for all you movie nuts, yes, this is the scene from Apollo 13
the movie.  I think I still cry everytime I watch Tom Hanks longingly
starring at the moon in that film.  Our interview was cut short by
Astronaut Mike Massimino who happened to have reserved the room. I found
out later that he is famous for doing the first tweet in
space!

There’s a magic being in the room where NASA saved the astronauts of Apollo 13.

Yes, this is where the Apollo 13 saga unfolded.

Ellington Field

After a quick bite to eat, we headed to Ellington field. This is the hanger
for the “weightless wonder” and is also where the students will put together their projects and get approved or disapproved for the zero gravity flight.

The OSU Space Cowboys work on their project before loading into Ellington Field for fine tuning.

I have confidence that the OSU project will be just fine! So what are they doing? Well, basically the OSU Space Cowboys are using three different types of motion
sensing cameras to test for future space suit development.  One person will
wear an outfit with dots on it and the motion will be presented as data
through customized software.

The experiment is a sturdy frame to hold the 3 different type of motion sensing cameras.

One of their cameras is an XBox Kinect camera
adapted for the experiment. So it’s kind of like a video game in
space…except instead of a fake points score at the end, the students
collect real data that NASA can use for official research.  In fact, NASA
is depending on the data…and I will tell you why on NewsChannel 4 HD!
Shauna and I interviewed a few people and watched the students from about eight
different high scools and colleges work on their projects.
After a few hours everyone was dismissed due to impending severe storms.
Only yours truly would show NASA officials her radar data on her phone.
It has been a long day and I am ready for sleep! Can’t wait to fly next week! Woo hoo!!!
 
Day 2: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
 
Shauna and I arrived back in Houston last Tuesday evening
and stayed at a new hotel closer to Ellington Field.  From now on, all of
the flight activities will be held at this location. It’s about 20 minutes
away from the Johnson Space Center and our previous hotel.

We ate a quick breakfast at a hotel, worked out and headed towards
Ellington Field for my flight suit fitting. While we have been gone, the
OSU Space Cowboys have been diligently working on their project and
thankfully, got it approved on Monday. Right before we arrived, they were
doing last minute details ensuring it was ready to board the “weightless
wonder” later in the afternoon.

The “Weightless Wonder” (more popularly coined the “Vomit Comet”).

There are 2 groups of the OSU Space Cowboys flying – B1 and B2.  I am in
group B1. I am SO excited!  I missed the motion sickness briefing so the others filled me in. They said I do not want to make any quick head movements, that will make me disoriented and nauseous.
You don’t have to tell me twice!
Most people get sick during the 2g part.
This is when we are rapidly ascending and the force is twice of what normal gravity feels like. In summary, it pins you to the floor.
Experts advise us to lay down to prevent motion sickness.
We also will have the option right before the flight to get an anti-motion
sickness shot or pills.
I will definitely partake in anything anti-motion sickness!

Flight Suit Fitting

Wearing my flight suit for the first time. This is getting real…real fast

it was my flight group’s (B1) time to get fitted for our flight suit.
No, we don’t wear a full out astronaut space suit (I WISH!) but rather a simple, olive green jump suit.
I just told the NASA official my height and they handed me a suit.
I told the students I felt like MC Hammer in it.
We had fun trying on the flight suits.
It made everything seem so real.
We found out that our zero gravity flight was going to be at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning instead of 3 p.m.
I am excited for the flight…but I know tomorrow I will be a bit anxious as well, so I was happy to hear about this news.

Rocket Park

Once we signed out our flight suits, Shauna and I headed to Rocket Park in the Johnson Space Center; it’s is open to the public.
There are several rockets on display, mainly from some of the initial missions.

This rocket has been restored and is now kept in a climate controlled room to avoid any erosion from pollutants, rain, hail, etc.

The coolest part was the Saturn rocket in a climate controlled room.
I mean, these space ships are HUGE! I mean, HUUUUUGGGEE!
I just kept thinking how many smart people poured their lives into crafting these machines.  The walls lined with information about all of the Apollo missions.

Where’s Tom Hanks? Just kidding :)

I loved seeing all of the headshots of the Apollo pilots.
Apollo 13 still tugs at my heart strings.
It’s kind of sad that Apollo 17 was our last mission to the moon but I know we will go back.  A final display in this climate-controlled Saturn Rocket Room alludes to the idea that NASA may be working towards a lunar project.

Lunar nerd facts! Turns out the moon isn’t made of cheese.

If you are ever near NASA, I recommend exploring Rocket Park.  It would be a great educational experience for kids as well kids at heart :)

Once we finished, Shauna and I hit up our new favorite restaurant in the
area, “Valdos.”  Since it’s the night before the flight I was told to eat a
non-greasy/lighter meal. Tomorrow morning I am instructed to have something
in my stomach before I fly, however, it should also be a light/healthy
meal. I am also supposed to be very hydrated so I am pre-hydrating today
with Water, Powerade and Vitamin Water. In a way, all of this prep is
making me feel like I am gearing up for a triathlon tomorrow. However, I’m
not allowed to work out 24 hours before this flight. Lord, I hope it all
goes well!

 
Day 3: Thursday, April 26, 2012
 
Rise & shine, campers! Shauna and I got up at an awful 6 a.m. to prepare for
the big day ahead. I made sure to follow my pre-flight instructions of
eating a light, healthy breakfast. I had my usual green tea, coffee (yeah,
that’s not good to drink before the flight but you don’t want to see me in
the morning without my coffee!), a hard boiled egg and a small strawberry
Greek yogurt. Shauna and I packed up and headed for Ellington Field.

The “Weightless Wonder”


The plane is a Boeing 727 modified for zero gravity.  I found out that
NASA uses the private company, Zero G Corporation,
for these flights. You can experience zero gravity for fun as well but
it comes with a hefty price tag, starting at $4,950 per person, according to
the company’s website. Thankfully, we were invited to tag along for the educational program and NASA covers the flight. The back has 4 or 5 rows of commercial airline seats. The middle and the front of the plane have been converted for zero gravity flights with padding on the floors, walls and ceilings.

The students’ projects have to be securely fastened. Zero gravity does not discriminate!

Pre-Flight

The B1 group includes, Calvin, Nicole, Professor Jamey and me.  We head
into the briefing room for our pre-flight information. At this juncture,
we already know the main safety guidelines, the instructors just remind
us that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and to not let the moment
pass you by!

Worst case scenario? Crashing into the Gulf of Mexico. I have a feeling this small vest will not help us at that point.

Next, we had one of the plane’s flight attendants go over all of the “worst case scenario” flight guidelines including personal oxygen masks and floatation devices.  I
didn’t really want to let my mind go there…especially since we were
flying over the Gulf of Mexico!

Next we prepared for our anti-motion sickness meds. We could either get a
shot or take pills with the dosage based on weight. Even though I don’t
particularly enjoy getting stuck with a needle, I opted for the shot since
the doctor said it works more efficiently. 10 minutes after the shot the
side effects kicked in and I felt like a had  2-3 glasses of wine buzz
going on. Next we went to the bathroom one last time because there are no
bathrooms on the plane!

Flight

We boarded the plane around 10 a.m. Each of us strapped into our seats and
buckled up accordingly. I could sense the excitement and nervous tension
in the air. The plane only has a few windows and they are closed so it’s
hard to sense when you are taxiing, taking off, etc. It seemed like
forever but we finally got off the ground and onto our adventure! A few
minutes later we were told we could move freely about the cabin. The
students went straight to their projects and I found a spot along the wall.
We have very specific instructions to lay all the way down or sit up
against the wall during the ascent and to stare straight ahead. The fast
ascent creates a 2g effect, meaning two times gravity. The doctors say
human bodies were not designed for 2g and therefore this portion of the
flight has the highest likelihood for motion sickness due to
disorientation. I do not want to risk getting motion sickness so I follow
the rules. The first 2g experience makes my vision a bit spotty and I felt
my body being pinned to the floor.

Zero Gravity

After about 30 seconds, the plane’s constant buzzing quiets. This is the
top of the parabola, like the top of a roller coaster. Now here comes the
fun part…zero gravity. It is not a sudden change but rather I feel my
head get very light and then my back lifted off the ground! It’s the
wildest feeling ever! I don’t think there is anything to compare it to, really.

I hold onto the rope securely during zero gravity until I get used to the feeling. It’s hard to control your movements and I don’t want to interrupt the students’ projects!

Oh my gosh I’m weightless! This is so COOL!

The best I can do is compare it to the light headed feeling after
you give blood or are about to pass out and then your body
follows…floating up as well! I started smiling and giggling like a kid.
I can’t help it. It is so unbelievably cool to be FLOATING!!! I was just
happy I didn’t do something stupid like curse or kick someone. Moving in
zero gravity is like nothing else. Some people say it’s like swimming but
I disagree. One small motion in zero gravity can send you flying due to
momentum. The first few times I hung onto the rope above me for dear life.
It’s not that I didn’t want to let go but I didn’t want to accidentally
kick someone or hit a student’s project. After about 25 seconds of zero
gravity, the flight crew yells, “FEET DOWN!” And you put your feet down!
Gravity quickly returns and you are back on the floor bracing for the 2g
effect.

It’s not all fun and games for the students…they have to actually get some work done!

OSU Professor Dr. Jamey Jacobs flying in zero gravity!

We do several of these parabolas in a row. The whole flight lasted 1.7
hours but it felt more like 20 minutes. Once I got more comfortable in
zero-g I had fun with it…floating myself to the other side and even
having the flight crew flip me around!

OSU Senior Calvin Brown represents the Sooner state with a tornado simulator in microgravity!

Weightlessness brings out the kid in me!

I am glad that I did not have to work diligently like our OSU students because I was having too much fun acting like a kid. Who DOESN’T want to fly? We did 30 parabolas
simulating zero gravity. The last two parabolas simulated the gravity on the
moon and then on Mars. The moon’s gravity is one-sixth of Earth’s gravity and it
IS like a moon bounce! You can just bounce around freely. Mar’s gravity
is one-third of Earth’s gravity so we couldn’t jump as much but I felt lighter
for sure. Before I knew it, the parabolas were over and we sat back down.

Back to Earth

The entire crew post-flight. Notice all the genuine smiles on our faces…no one got sick! Hooray!

I think it was better than I could have imagined. No one got sick on our flight
which is amazing considering the plane is more commonly referred to as the
“Vomit Comet.” I could tell the drugs had not worn off yet because I was
still a bit woozy. I reluctantly turned in my flight suit and then
we headed back to the hotel.

Goodbye NASA!

In summary, I feel blessed to be a part of such a unique, geeky and
fascinating opportunity. I think this is a true honor for not only
Oklahoma State University but the entire state of Oklahoma. Their research
will be directly implemented into future NASA projects. After experiencing
the joyride of zero gravity for myself, I completely understand why the
Space Cowboys are already putting together a proposal for next year. Who
knows, maybe one of you will experience zero gravity one day. I can only
hope for your sake.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned to News Channel 4 HD for the killer video!
It’s awesome!