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LMC in the News

Los Medanos engineering students
to take ride on NASA's 'Vomit Comet'

Written by Roman Gokhman, Contra Costa Times
Posted: 03/16/2011

group photo
LMC engineering students pictured from left Brian Delgadillo, Chris Sanchez, Shaun Regacho and Angelique Sims.

PITTSBURG -- Four engineering students from Los Medanos College are looking forward to a ride on NASA's "Vomit Comet" in Houston as part of a program where they will test an original science experiment.

The four will try to develop a formula to calculate motion in a microgravity environment and carry out their experiment aboard NASA's reduced gravity airplane in June.

The information developed by "Team Bazinga" -- named after a catchphrase in the television show "The Big Bang Theory" -- may help NASA gather information for future spaceflight.

"It would be nice to know if we help that," said 23-year-old Angelique Sims, the team's leader.

The group, which also includes Shaun Regacho, Brian Delgadillo and Chris Sanchez, all 23, was selected as one of 14 teams to participate in the NASA Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program. The program is open to all community colleges and other universities in which at least 25 percent of the population consists of minority students.

All four are roller coaster junkies who have no fear about the steep dives the airplane will take to create the feeling of weightlessness.

"The only thing we were worried about is getting the work done," Sims said.

The four originally applied to another program that is open to all universities but were beaten out by schools such as Dartmouth, Yale and George Washington.

"It means a lot to us and the faculty here (to be selected)," Sims said.

said the four friends applied for the program after Sims spotted a pamphlet in a teacher lounge and asked instructor Jacqueline Gesner about it. The students wanted to be able to apply what they learned in engineering classes in a real-world setting, he said.

In their experiment, a steel ball 1/16th of an inch across will be launched from an electromagnetic device the team has dubbed the "Chuck Norris." The ball's velocity and trajectory will be measured on the ground, as well as in the reduced-gravity airplane.

The airplane, which flies at high altitudes and makes several sharp dips, provides a feeling of weightlessness -- or "zero G" -- to the passengers.

"This is as close to zero G as you can get on Earth," Delgadillo said.

The research will hopefully provide information about moving objects in a reduced-gravity environment more efficiently -- without using fuel, he said.

"This engineering project gives the students the experience of what a project has to go through from design, to thought on paper, to having someone accept it and then having to complete it," said Gesner, the team's faculty adviser.

The team will travel to Houston for 11 days and participate in flight training before going up in the "Vomit Comet." Because the four have to pay their own way to Houston, as well as for lodging, rental cars and everything other than flight training, they will also learn about the fundraising it takes to complete such a project.

NASA program coordinator Sara Malloy said the agency is excited to see what ideas up-and-coming scientists are coming up with.

"It contributes to developing the NASA future work force," Malloy said.

The participants are also required to do community outreach to children, which drums up excitement in the government's space program, she said.

Regacho, a lifelong "Star Trek" fan who dreams of building an operational Starship Enterprise, sees the program as a possible career move.

"Just to be able to build anything that goes into space is exciting," he said.

How to help
Team Bazinga needs to raise $5,000 for airfare to Houston and lodging for 11 days. The college is accepting donations to help pay for the program. Checks can be sent to the Los Medanos College Foundation, in care of Lindy Maynes for the NASA student program, to 2700 E. Leland Road, Pittsburg, CA 94565.