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Flying Aggies fly experiments during spring break

The Flying Aggies, two teams of eight New Mexico State University students, recently returned from Houston where they participated in the 10-day Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program (RGSFOP) at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

Flying Aggie Michelle Villa, left, watches as Aaron Paz, right, is suspended in the air during a reduced-gravity flight at NASA's Johnson Space Center. A NASA flight technician, center, helps flip Paz during the flight. (Courtesy photo)

Members of this year's Flying Aggies are Brandon Armendariz, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering; Clinton Moore, a senior majoring in civil engineering; Nick Palmer, a junior majoring in electrical engineering; Aaron Paz, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering; Shannon Roe, a junior majoring in civil engineering; Steven Sandoval, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering; Michelle Villa, a senior majoring in engineering technology; and Lyle Young, a senior majoring in chemical engineering.

Each team tested an experiment aboard the "weightless wonder" KC-135 aircraft.

One experiment, Convection Inhibiting Vapor Layers, simulated a nuclear reactor core to study how much vapor collects around the heated core in microgravity and how the vapor affects the core's temperature. On Earth vapor rises to the surface, but in the absence of gravity the vapor becomes neutrally buoyant and does not depart from the heating element, causing the temperature of the core to increase significantly. As future space missions become more complex, current power systems will need to be replaced with nuclear reactors.

The other experiment, Water Treatment Filtration Systems, dealt with ways to recycle water in space. Recycling water would cut costs, allow more storage space and increase the amount of time astronauts can spend in space. For this experiment, the students worked to filter bathing water through a multi-layered filter for re-use for bathing or experimental purposes.

The teams were assisted by faculty adviser and associate professor of engineering technology Sonya Cooper, professor of chemical engineering Stuart Munson-McGee, assistant professor of chemical engineering Shuguang Deng and professor of civil engineering Adrian Hanson.

This is the fourth consecutive year in which proposals made by the Flying Aggies have been selected for the RGSFOP program.

Members of the Flying Aggies are chosen based on their interest in microgravity and NASA-related projects. The Flying Aggies are a multi-disciplinary group of students from different majors.

"They are usually students at the top of their class," said Cooper. "In addition to their course loads, they have to spend hours writing proposals and testing evaluation data packages, building and testing their experiments, traveling to Houston to do the experiment, writing a report on their findings upon return and participating in outreach activities. It's extremely time-consuming."

But the experience is a great addition to students' resumes, especially if they want to work for an agency like NASA, Cooper said.

Financial support for the Flying Aggies was provided by the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, the New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation program and NMSU's engineering technology, chemical, civil and mechanical engineering departments.

RGSFOP provides a unique academic experience for undergraduate students to propose, design, fabricate, fly and evaluate a reduced-gravity experiment of their choice over the course of a school year. The overall experience includes scientific research, hands-on experimental design, test operations and educational and public outreach activities.

For more information, contact Cooper at (505) 646-1506.