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Teacher thrills students with tale of zero-gravity flight

POSTED: January 2, 2008 5:03 a.m.
To say that Tracy Robar was light on her feet doesn’t quite describe the experience.

The Gainesville High School math teacher was like a kid on a playground, tumbling, floating, falling and getting up to do it all over again.

"We screamed a lot," Robar said of her exhilarating experience aboard a zero-gravity flight she took with fellow educators on Sept. 13.

Robar soared to heights of 32,000 to 45,000 feet on the Weightless Flight of Discovery, sponsored by defense contractor Northrop Grumman and space-entertainment company Zero Gravity.

She talked about her experience Wednesday with a group of Centennial Arts Academy third-graders and showed the students a video of her trip.

Students whooped and hollered as they reacted to watching the passengers doing back flips and somersaults and climbing on the plane’s ceiling.

"I’m going into space," said one student.

"Me, too," said another.

Robar, a Georgia Tech graduate, wore a yellow-and-black bandana to help her stand out in the thick and bustling crowd, but she had trouble keeping the accessory in place.

Other passengers also wore distinctive clothing items, including one man who showed off a Superman shirt underneath his flight uniform and struck a pose of the superhero taking flight.

A Centennial student likened one passenger’s wall crawling to Spider-Man.

Robar was asked whether she or anyone was injured on the one-hour experience over the Great Lakes.

"On the flight before us, one of the reporters got a gash in his head ... and had to go to the hospital to have stitches," she said. "I did hurt my ankle one time."

She added later, "You don’t have a lot of control."

The plane goes into a series of dives and climbs to simulate weightlessness. Between periods of gravity freedom, movement was less possible.

"It felt like someone was holding you down," Robar said.

In an interview before the trip, Robar said the experience would be "the closest I’m ever going to get to being an astronaut."

Robar was one of 6,000 teachers who applied in 2004 for one of the three NASA educator astronaut positions.

She was one of 197 finalists but was "disqualified during the Johnson Space Center applicant screening process because of an asthma test," she said.

NASA didn’t want to lose the time and money it spent in finding teacher astronauts, so it named the finalists to a group, Network of Educator Astronaut Teachers.

Robar applied for a spot on the Weightless Flight of Discovery and was selected. She attended a workshop preparing her for the flight on Aug. 3 in Washington, D.C.

Northrop Grumman paid for all the costs, including the flight suit and video.

She said the flight left her exhausted and "very, very nauseous," but she would jump at the chance to fly weightless again.

"It was a blast," Robar said.



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