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Zero-gravity experience opens doors for Carthage students

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For a group of Carthage College physics students, zero gravity is leading to new opportunities.

Six students from Carthage recently spent 11 days at the Johnson Space Center in Houston working with NASA scientists to test an experimental device the student team devised to measure fuel volume in zero gravity.

The students were part of a group of nine college teams from around the country accepted to NASA’s Systems Engineering Educational Discovery Program, which challenges teams of science students to devise solutions to problems that dog missions in space.

It was the second year in a row that Carthage students worked with the program, trying to develop an accurate way to measure fuel in a zero-gravity environment.

Unlike fuel tanks here on Earth — where fuel gauges work by using a float on the surface of the fuel — fuel in the zero-gravity environment of space floats free within a tank, making its volume difficult to measure.

The Carthage students have designed a gauge they believe will work in zero gravity, a project that could save NASA time and space on missions.

The students tested their project in Houston during two flights on NASA’s G-Force One, a plane used to create a weightless environment.

Their experiment was a success.

“Everything worked basically flawlessly,” said Kevin Lubick, a computer science major.

Project members Lubick and Steven Mathe, a chemistry major, now plan to spend the summer analyzing the data collected on the flight.

They will also begin work on a new project helping college students work on a suborbital rocket, with the hope that the Carthage gauge can be tested in a true zero-gravity environment.

Meanwhile, the students are considering the impact of the program on their own lives.

“I originally came to Carthage as a chemistry major,” said Danielle Weiland. But after working with the NASA program for the past two years, she said, “I realized I don’t want to stop working on what I am working on, and I plan to go to graduate school to study aerospace engineering.”

Mathe also has shifted his plans.

“My experience on this project completely changed my idea of where my career was going,” Mathe said. Now, he said, his goal is to attend graduate school in explosives engineering to study things like rocket fuel. “My goal now is to get a job with NASA.”

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