Five Northwestern undergraduates will conduct experiments in zero gravity next month on a NASA airplane that enables people to experience weightlessness without leaving Earth’s atmosphere.

The five students who will fly on the plane — plus two others who will work on the ground and another who will serve as an alternate flyer — are part of the Northwestern University Microgravity Team. The team is one of 18 selected to participate in this year’s NASA Reduced Gravity Flight Opportunities Program. More than 100 teams from schools across the country applied for the program.

The students will spend about a week in Houston beginning April 4, with two days of flight at the end of the week. Their experiments aboard the plane will focus on how people’s bones are affected by being in space.


Three students will be aboard the plane for the team’s first flight, and two will be aboard for the second. On each day, the students will have 30 different opportunities to experience zero gravity in flight. They’ll use 25 of those to perform their experiments, while the other five will be pure fun.

The plane is a modified Boeing 727-200 that flies high-altitude parabolas to create short periods of zero gravity, simulating the weightlessness of space flight. It’s known as the “Vomit Comet.”

Despite the nickname, the students can’t wait to take off.


“As a chemical engineering major, working on this project has been a push and pull for time, but every minute is 1,000 percent worth it,” said Kat Dhiantravan, a sophomore in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science who will be flying on the plane. “I am so grateful for this opportunity and incredibly excited that this is a part of my college experience.”

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