Cal TAC Member Gets Taste of Space

November 3, 2006 |   | Contact: M. Daniel DeCillis

The California Teacher Advisory Council (Cal TAC) is a group of expert K-12 teachers providing a valuable connection between the teaching community and the educational experts and policymakers who are shaping California’s educational system. Cal TAC member Janet English provided this account of the Northrop Grumman Weightless Flights of Discovery, a program designed to inspire science teachers.


Cal TAC member Janet English during her Northrop Grumman Weightless Flight of Discovery.

Compressed against the floor at 1.8 g’s, I’m feeling almost twice the force of gravity. This 727 aircraft is going upward at a 45 degree angle and going 500 miles per hour. I’m lying down with my hands to my sides, and the g forces are enough to make my cheeks, my neck and all the skin around my body feel squished against the floor. We’re in a parabolic flight pattern about 300 miles west of the coast of California where the pilot takes us in a series of ups and downs that will give us 25-second periods of weightlessness. In actuality, in moments we’ll be in freefall, just like the astronauts in the space shuttle, and we’ll feel what it’s like to be away from Earth, without the force of gravity pulling us down, and how it affects how things move.

“Feet down. Coming out!” screams the crew.

This is one of five of Northrop Grumman’s Weightless Flights of Discovery where a total of 240 teachers are treated to an experience of weightlessness. In this environment, we are given the opportunity to conduct experiments in micro gravity so we can use this experience, and these results, to help inspire students in our classrooms.Within seconds, the plane is level, I feel the force of gravity increasing, and as the plane ascends we’re compressed against the floor once again at 1.8 g’s.

This is Northrop Grumman’s idea and their belief in the value in inspiring teachers because they believe teachers are the force to inspire students to pursue fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. If each teacher were to inspire 1,000 students, and only 10% of those students entered the fields of science and math, America would be a whole lot better off. Call it Sputnik 2, if you like, but without drastic changes in the number of students that passionately pursue science and engineering, America will absolutely not keep a competitive edge in the global market.

On just this one day teachers conducted demonstrations that included robots spinning like ice skaters, a slingshot, a pig that flew in a circle and an apparatus that mimicked motion on a space station.

This trip also changed our perceptions of what we considered “Normal.” Our experience with gravity on Earth is an oddity, rather than the norm, in the universe. Thanks to Northrop Grumman and the California Space Authority, there are now 40 teachers from Southern California who are returning to our schools to enlighten, to inspire and to enthuse our children about space, science, and engineering.

Inspiration and motivation come in many forms, but the quickest and deepest way to inspire anyone is to engage them in a genuinely inspiring experience.

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