A group of teachers from Columbus, Northside and Hardaway high schools will be spending their summer vacations in space — well, sort of.
Luther Richardson and Laura Solomons from Columbus High, Matt Hanes from Northside High and Brenda Howell from Hardaway High are part of a team from Muscogee County selected by NASA and the National Science Teachers Association to fly with student experiments in a plane that simulates a reduced gravity environment.
The modified Boeing 727 does a steep climb followed by a steep descent, producing about 20 seconds of weightlessness. The plane has earned the nickname “The Vomit Comet” because some people get motion sickness during the flight.
“You always feel like you are twice your weight or nothing,” said Richardson, who has flown on the aircraft before. “It’s pretty wild.”
The teachers will fly with an experiment designed by Columbus High students Pranam Chatterjee, Priyanka Chatterjee, Kevin Tjen and Ebone Monk. The students designed a mini-satellite that is supposed to turn and focus on a light source while floating in the microgravity environment of the plane.
The experiment was designed for another competition, the Conrad Foundation’s Spirit of Innovation Awards and placed as a finalist. The students decided to submit their idea to NASA and NTSA’s competition, mentioning the “The Vomit Comet” in their proposal.
The teachers will travel to Houston in July and spend some time training before they take off from Ellington Airfield, which is adjacent to the Johnson Space Center. They will take pictures and video of their flight to share with students when they get back.
“It’s a pretty neat experience,” said Richardson, a physics teacher at Columbus High. He likened the flight to the feeling you get when you’re in a car going too fast that goes over a large bump in the road. “You are basically falling without any wind resistance.”
Hanes said his students were excited, adding that he showed them clips from the movie “Apollo 13,” which was filmed in a plane similar to the one he will travel in this summer.
Richardson and Hanes said they hoped to use their experiences on the flight for teaching their classes and students at other schools about outer space and the future possibilities of working in a microgravity environment.
“In the future, it may be something engineers have to take into account,” Hanes said.
Though this is his first time traveling in the “The Vomit Comet,” he said he doesn’t think he’ll get sick.
“I don’t think so. I’ve never had motion sickness before.”
Sara Pauff, 706-320-4469