EU funding: Europe offers young scientists astronaut experience


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The European Space Agency is giving graduate students the opportunity to take their experiments to new heights.

Under the programme ‘Fly Your Thesis! - An Astronaut Experience’, Master’s or PhD thesis students will fly their experiments in microgravity. The ESA’s Education Office says interested parties have until 31 August 2008 to submit their proposals.

In layman’s terms, microgravity is weightlessness or zero gravity. The first image that springs to mind is an astronaut floating inside their spacecraft. But microgravity also affects active people, like swimmers jumping off diving boards and amusement park revellers. Lasting for only short periods of time, microgravity occurs during the ‘free fall’ period of such types of activities.

Using an Airbus A300 Zero-G aircraft, the students will take part in a series of parabolic flights during the programme. The participants will be placed in up to 20 teams, chosen by a review board, and will be asked to present a detailed scientific proposal, under the guidance of a scientific mentor. The French-owned Airbus A-300 aircraft provides frequent and repeated periods of weightlessness, the ESA says.

The review board will assess all proposals during a workshop, to be held at ESA’s European Space Technology and Research Centre (ESTEC) in the western Dutch municipality of Noordwijk later this year. Visits to the Germany-based European Astronaut Centre (EAC) are also on the cards for the students. EAC is the training site for European astronauts.

At the end of the first workshop, three or four teams will be asked to carry out their experiment on an ESA Microgravity Research Campaign, which is scheduled to take place in the French port city of Bordeaux in 2009. Thanks to this campaign, the students will have the opportunity to rub elbows with leading European scientists who are conducting their own research. It should be noted that the teams will accompany their experiments on board for 3 flights of 30 parabolas. Each parabola will provide students with around 20 seconds of microgravity.

Under the programme, each team of students must design a scientific experiment that will be carried out in microgravity. The experiment is part of the students’ Master’s or PhD thesis, or research programme. The deadline for the teams to register on ESA Education’s Project Portal and upload their outline proposals is 31 August 2008. All teams must use the Letter of Intent template for their proposals.

Students taking part in Fly Your Thesis! are supported by the ESA Education office, ESA microgravity experts and members of ELGRA (European Low Gravity Research Association). In a statement, ESA says it will also provide financial support to cover part of the cost of the experiments, necessary travel and accommodation, as well as conference participation.

In a related development, people attending the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) workshop of the ESA may be asked to perform their experiments in another gravity research facility.


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