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TU students' experiment waiting on space shuttle's future

The great tragedy of Saturday's space shuttle crash was the seven lives lost. Also lost was data from 80 on-board experiments. One of those is an Oklahoma based cancer project.

News on Six reporter Rick Wells tells us about a TU experiment bound for a future shuttle, that's now on hold. TU senior Justin Mitchell: "Our timeline as of Friday was that we would end up on the shuttle somewhere around 2004 or 2005."

On the shuttle means that their experiment would ride a space shuttle maybe as early as next spring. What happened Saturday changed the schedule they are sure, they hope not by much. Their experiment will help perhaps explain how asteroids form in space. And they're well on the way to getting it up there.

Here's what happens. Nearly every shuttle carries some scientific experiments. TU bought two spaces on future flights when the program began in 1981. This is the first of those. The project must pass a rigorous evaluation by NASA, including in this case preliminary flights on board the weightless wonder, or more popularly, ‘the vomit comet.’

During flight it takes a giant roller coaster ride, about 80 trips up and down creates 25 seconds of weightlessness during each. The TU team flew last summer. Justin Mitchell: "I got mighty sick." They also got some valuable information. Came home made some modifications and will go back to Houston for another flight next month. Then there are more evaluations and eventually approval for the experiment to fly the shuttle.

When the shuttle resumes its missions. TU grad student Matt Olson: "In the long run if we are flying again soon here pretty soon there may not be a backlog of these ‘Get-away-special’ containers and we may get to fly again in 2004."

This project is being monitored in the Physics Department out at TU, but there are engineering students of all types who've contributed to it. They believe their second flight aboard the "weightless wonder" will not be affected by what happened Saturday, but they haven't heard.
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