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Microgravity by Tiana and Sammy

Who doesn't love rollercoasters? We could spend days on them! Your stomach jumps into your throat and you feel like you're floating. That feeling is weightlessness, which is kind of like what astronauts feel in space. Astronauts call it microgravity, because during the fall you feel only a tiny amount of gravity's pull. We wondered: how do ordinary things behave in microgravity?

What did we do?
We searched NASA's Web site and found a way to test what microgravity is like. We made a "drop box" from a regular plastic storage container. We dropped it over a ledge and into an inflatable swimming pool. The height of the ledge was about 5 meters, enough to give us about 1 second of microgravity. We put a fizzing seltzer tablet in the drop box to see what happens to bubbles in microgravity. Second, we put a walking wind-up toy in the box, to see what it does. Last, we wondered what it would be like to ride on a swing in space. We put a small swinging pendulum in the box. We had a wireless video camera inside the box so we could see what happened during the drop.

What did we find out?
We played back the video in slow motion. Before the drop, we saw the fizzy bubbles rising. Then they just stood still during the drop! Bubbles don't float up in microgravity! The walking toy walked like normal during microgravity, although it started to lift up off the floor of the box a little bit, like it was floating. The swinging pendulum was swinging back and forth right before the drop, but then the pendulum swung all the way around in one direction in microgravity.

What can you do?
• Ask your teacher to write to NASA to request their drop box equipment and video camera. Design some simple drop box experiments of your own. Contact NASA at http://microgravity.grc.nasa.gov/mini/minit.htm

• Experience a little bit of microgravity yourself on a roller coaster or thrill ride. On that same ride, you might also experience "greater than gravity," that is 1.5g, 2g or more. Figure out which parts of the ride give you a less-than-g experience and which give you greater-than-g experience.

• Design some tests you would like to see included on a space shuttle mission to learn more about microgravity. Observe an ordinary event or object (soap bubbles, candle, bouncing ball), and determine how gravity is involved. Make a hypothesis about how that thing would change in microgravity.

• Use this space science investigation as a science fair project idea for your elementary or middle school science fair! Then tell us about it!