Papio student helps NASA


A Papillion man may someday get his chance to help NASA pilot an aircraft in reduced gravity.

Christian Laney, a freshman electrical engineering major at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and 22 other engineering students will have a chance to pilot a free-flying vehicle — while it plummets through mid-air — as part of NASA’s research.

Laney, 18, was home schooled before earning an associate’s degree at Metro Community College at its Sarpy County Center in La Vista. Laney said he has always been interested in engineering in one form or another.

“I like to build stuff, and electrical engineering seemed to fit,” he said.

Laney said he heard about the NASA Microgravity University project from a teacher at UNL and it piqued his interest. He sent in his resume in and was picked for the project.

Laney described the experiment as trying to design something to fly in zero gravity. The UNL team is also tasked with finding a way to collect the data in the experiments.

First, they will have to design the vehicle to fly in lowered gravity. They will then take the vehicle aboard an aircraft during flight week at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The plane will ascend to 35,000 feet before taking a dive.

While the plane is descending, the momentum induces weightlessness onboard, providing the zero-gravity environment they need to perform their tests. That’s when they will try to fly their project.

Laney said students call the ride the “vomit comet.”

However, Laney won’t get to fly this summer because of other plans. Next summer he may get the chance.

“I love roller coasters, so I think it would be a blast,” Laney said.

After they perform the experiments riding through the air, the UNL team will get to test their vehicle using the Active Response Gravity Offload System, a robotic crane that simulates lower gravity. Laney said, for instance, they can hook a person up to ARGOS and make them feel like they are on the moon as the crane carries them.

The data collected from the plane ride will hopefully improve and refine the system.

Laney said he is impressed with the engineering program at UNL. “I’ve only been here one semester so far,” Laney said. “I’m already learning so much, and it’s fun.”

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