Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Teacher Discovers Weightless Flight; Defense Company Offers Educators a Special Ride

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Teacher Discovers Weightless Flight; Defense Company Offers Educators a Special Ride

Article excerpt


Clay County teacher Chris Lee's summer did not turn out as he expected.

He never anticipated being part of Northrop Grumman Weightless Flights of Discovery program, where he found himself flying in dedicated airspace 100 miles long by 10 miles wide.

He never anticipated being in an aircraft that did a series of maneuvers called parabolas, or arcs, giving him the chance to experience what it would be like to be completely weightless on the moon or visiting Mars.

But the week before the 2005-06 school year ended, Lee received an e-mail about the Weightless Flights of Discovery program. He applied and on June 24 was one of 40 teachers on the inaugural flight at Kennedy Space Center.

A technology teacher at Keystone Heights Junior-Senior High School, he said he can hardly wait for the new school year to begin in August so he can share his experience with his students.

"We talked about these things in the past. They have seen astronauts doing it, but sometimes it's hard to get them fired up. But now they can see me there," Lee said.

Over the summer, 240 teachers from 50 states and at least 15 countries will take part in the program.

Weightless Flights of Discovery is designed to help "create the well-educated, technically trained workforce needed to undertake and sustain a successful human space exploration program," said a prepared statement from Northrop Grumman. Also, the corporation hopes participating teachers will spark student interest in "pursuing careers in other scientific and technical fields," the statement said.

It certainly sparked Lee's interest.

But his interest in space first was sparked as a youth attending Fletcher High School in Jacksonville Beach. He often watched as the trail from space flights launched from the south colored the horizon. Then last summer, he took a course at Embry-Riddle University that assists teachers in teaching space exploration in the classroom. He came home from that experience ready to introduce more about space technology to his students.

However, he never expected to get the opportunity to personally get a taste of what it would be like to be in space.

Lee admitted he was somewhat apprehensive when he boarded ZERO-G, the aircraft that would take him on the flight where he would experience the feelings of being on Mars, on the moon and weightless. He attended a workshop a few days prior to the flight that prepared the teachers for the experience and gave them strategies to bring their space adventure back to the classroom.

At the beginning of each of the 15 parabolas, or arcs, the aircraft climbed at a 45-degree angle. The descent created the zero-gravity environment, which lasted about 30 seconds, Lee said.

Several days after his flight, Lee was at a computer in the school library looking at a CD filled with photos and video clips from the flight. …

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