In Brief

Next Stop: Zero Gravity with UCSD Microgravity Team

A Zero Gravity Corporation jet sits at Ellington Field in Houston awaiting a NASA Microgravity University flight on July 18, 2013.
G-Force One, a Zero Gravity Corporation jet for weightless flights, sits at Ellington Field in Houston awaiting a NASA microgravity flight on July 18, 2013. (Image credit: Malik)

HOUSTON — I just might defy gravity today. I'm sitting with a team of aerospace and mechanical engineering students from the University of California, San Diego, that are counting down to their first chance to fly on a ZERO-G aircraft to perform a weightless fire experiment under NASA's Microgravity University Program.

The UCSD Microgravity Team, led by senior Sam Avery, is poised to fly on a modified Boeing 727 jet designed to provide brief periods of weightlessness during a series of acrobatic parabolic flights. Today, Avery and two team members, Jack Goodwin and Daneesha Kenyon, will take the first flight shift to perform their experiment during an afternoon flight today. Other members will fly on Friday, if the weather — which has been dismal all week — holds true. Right now, it's a bright, sunny day here at Ellington Field, near NASA's Johnson Space Center.

"I think just walking out today and seeing that it was clear skies, was just the best feeling," Kenyon said. "That was about the best news that we could have gotten." There have been some slight surprises today. The team has spent some time earlier this morning finding some new tie-down straps to secure a new battery power source for their experiment and its control laptop. They worked late into the night practicing the quick series of switch throws to deploy a droplet of biofuel onto a pair of crossed wires, then ignite it with a spark. [Photos: Zero-Gravity Science at NASA's Microgravity University]

You can follow the progress of today's NASA Microgravity University Program flight via the program's Twitter feed @NASA_RGEFP and the hashtag #DefyGravity. UCSD Microgravity Team member Nico Montoya has been posting updates about the team's work at @NicoSuave9.

Here's a look at our coverage of the mission so far:

Students Test Flame in Space | Video

Students, Teachers to Hitch Ride on NASA’s 'Vomit Comet' for Weightless Science

Weightless Flames: How Fires Burn in Space

Here's a look at all 14 student and teacher teams flying with NASA on ZERO-G's G-Force One jet:

  • Baldwin Wallace University / John Carroll University: The Stability of Liquid Bridges under Varying Total Body Force
  • Purdue University: Water Removal in Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells
  • Rice University Electromagnetic Position Sensing in Microgravity
  • SUNY Buffalo: Microgravity Characterization of Zirconia Monolithic Electrokinetic Micropumps
  • University of California San Diego: Fiber Supported Droplet Combustion of Bioethanol and Biobutanol
  • University of Texas, El Paso: Combustion of Lunar and Martian Regolith Simulants with Magnesium
  • West Virginia University: Optimization of Liquid Spray Cooling in a Variable Gravity Environment

And here are the teacher teams and their experiments:

  • Team Kennedy, Hillsboro, MO: Absorbency of Liquids in Space
  • Prior Lake-Savage Middle Schools, Prior Lake, MN: Behavior of Acoustic Energy in MicroGravity
  • St. Joan of Arc School, Lisle, IL: Gravity's Affect on Magnets
  • Evansville Day School, Evansville, IN: Tornado Fluid Flow in Microgravity
  • Poinciana Elementary and Atlantic High School, Boynton Beach, FL: How Does Gravity Affect Convection?
  • Einstein Fellows, Arlington, VA: Gravity's Impact on Coacervate Formation
  • Riversink Elementary School, Crawfordville, FL: Wakulla Waters: A Liquid Investigation.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.