July 23, 2002
“It was a really incredible experience,” Keefner said. “It was like you feeling when you drive over hill, but it was like that all the time. Some people didn’t handle it too well, but for me, it was great.”
The team’s experiment failed in one regard – the solar sail did not move the way the team designed it to move. Keefner believes the sail snagged inside its chamber. That doesn’t mean the team didn’t learn anything.
“We learned that friction plays a critical role in solar sail motion, especially at high accelerations,” Keefner said. “On another positive note, the microwave worked very well, even though we had to jump through so many hoops to get NASA to allow us to use it.”
The flight lasted just under two hours, and the plane flew 42 parabolas. Forty were at zero gravity, one was at Martian gravity and one was at lunar gravity.
Two more team members are scheduled to fly Wednesday. That crew will perform a similar experiment, but will test how light, instead of a microwave, moves the solar sail.
Keefner said the trip matched his very high expectations.
“I’ve been dreaming about this for months, and it was almost identical to what I thought it would be,” he said. “It was really great.”
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