Teen Scientists Take a Ride on the 'Vomit Comet'

Contest winners from around the world got to experience weightlessness as part of the YouTube Space Lab.

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Everyone remembers their first flight--the anticipation, sweaty palms, and butterflies that come with takeoff. Emerald Bresnahan's story beats all of those--her first flight was in a zero-gravity "vomit comet."

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Winners of the Lenovo / YouTube Space Lab contest experience zero gravity.

Bresnahan was a finalist in the YouTube / Lenovo Space Lab competition, which asked high school students to design an experiment that could be performed in zero gravity, with two overall winners' projects being blasted to the International Space Station to be conducted by astronauts.

"It was my first flight--I don't think any part was scary, but there was definitely a wow factor," Bresnahan says. "It's kind of like you're a balloon and there's nothing you can do--you have to ride it out until weight comes back."

Nine finalists from around the world, including winners Dorothy Chen and Sara Ma of Troy, Mich., got a taste of what their experiments might go through on Wednesday with a ride aboard the Zero G Corporation's modified Boeing 727. By flying a series of parabolas, the air crew can let onboard riders experience up to 30 seconds of true weightlessness at a time--something that can't be simulated on earth in any other way.

The science behind the finalists' experiments is impressive. Ma and Chen want to cultivate probiotic, or helpful, bacteria in space. Some types of harmful bacteria have been shown to become more virulent in zero-gravity conditions--would probiotic bacteria therefore become more helpful in space? Bresnahan, meanwhile, wanted to grow snowflakes in space, because they share a similar shape with certain galaxies. By studying snowflake formation, scientists might be able to determine how galaxies are born and expand.

While Ma and Chen want to see their projects in space, Wednesday's flight was about as much zero gravity as they could take.

"I feel like we're both more appreciative of what astronauts go through before they get to space," Ma says. Chen said after the experience, she'll "just stay on the ground."

"You can land on the ceiling and feel like you're landing on the floor," Chen says.