Editor's note: "Hall Passages" is a weekly education feature in the Missoulian. Each week on a rotating basis, K-12 education reporter Jamie Kelly visits a private or public school in the Missoula Valley to see what's new in the halls and walls of our learning institutions. This week, Kelly spent some time in the Target Range School District.
Two Target Range School District teachers who spent a lot of time in zero gravity now have some very down-to-Earth lessons for their students.
Kaye Ebelt and Jann Clouse returned over the weekend from Houston as part of the Big Sky Density Flyers team of Montana teachers, which performed student-led science experiments aboard a Boeing 727 airplane colorfully known as the "Vomit Comet."
It was part of the NASA program called "Teaching from Space," which gives American educators and their students a chance to perform their own science experiments in "microgravity" aboard the airplane. Three teachers from Anna Jeffries School in Cut Bank also joined Ebelt and Clouse.
On Monday, both teachers spoke to their students about their flights, just two days after they flew in zero gravity above the Gulf of Mexico from the home base in Houston.
"We missed you guys the last week, and we were thinking about you," said Ebelt, a fifth-grade teacher at Target Range like her partner Clouse. "We did this for you. And for us to fly your experiments into microgravity was an honor."
Ebelt and Clouse wowed a packed classroom of children with photos and videos of their flights aboard the aircraft, which had them twisting and floating in virtual zero gravity during 30 parabolic trajectories for each of two flights.
The students, who have been studying the properties of liquids and the science of space flight, kept their eyes glued to the projected images of Ebelt and Clouse and the experiments they performed when the aircraft went into a dive, simulating what it's like in space.
"Ms. Clouse," said one student, "it looks like you were kind of sick."
Clouse answered that NASA was kind enough to give the teachers air-sickness shots that reduced the odds of a gastronomic accident.
Besides, she said, there is no shame even if one happened.
"We met an astronaut who told us that when he first went to the International Space Station, he got sick," she said. "So we wouldn't feel too bad."
In each of their flights, the two educators climbed and dove, over and over, as they flew in the hollowed-out fuselage of the 727. During the descents, they would be in "micro-G."
In those 30 brief moments, Ebelt and Clouse hoped to answer questions about what happens to liquids of different densities and viscosities when they are together in weightlessness. Their students have been studying the physical properties of liquids, and the weekend flights provided the ultimate science lab for them to determine the results.
Ebelt explained the challenges of the flights as the students watched videos Monday afternoon.
"I want you to pretend you're sitting in the fuselage," she said. "You don't want to move your head up and down because it can make you sick."
She also told them how important it was for those aboard the plane to prepare to enter "micro-G."
Hands up, always!
"The first time we did it, I didn't know about that," she said. "And I conked my head on the ceiling."
Ebelt and Clouse will be editing all the videos of their flights and piecing them together in the near future to show to Target Range students in a school-wide assembly.
Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.