ELLINGTON AIR FORCE BASE, Tex. — A Florida congressman and a New Hampshire teacher in training for two coming shuttle flights took a break Wednesday to have "a lot of fun" aboard a jet that simulates zero gravity.
Rep. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), scheduled for launch Dec. 18 aboard the shuttle Columbia, and Christa McAuliffe, a social studies teacher from Concord, N.H., were aboard a modified transport airplane flown in a roller coaster-like path to achieve brief periods of weightlessness.
Also on board were astronauts who will take part in future shuttle missions and Barbara Morgan, a Boise, Ida., teacher in training as McAuliffe's backup for a Jan. 22 launch aboard Challenger.
Acrobatic Twists, Turns
Nelson and the teachers had flown on the plane before to practice experiments they will carry out in orbit. They spent most of Wednesday's flight propelling themselves through the plane's hold and executing acrobatic twists and turns.
"We just had a lot of fun," said Nelson, who tried to practice moving around the aircraft upside down, using straps inside the plane to hold his feet. "You can't just get up there and walk. You have to hold onto something and push."
McAuliffe and Morgan helped with an experiment to show how rocket fuel reacts to weightlessness, then practiced two lessons McAuliffe will teach from space in January.
"This will be my chance to instruct a very large classroom," McAuliffe said. "We're hoping it reaches a very wide audience."
One lesson will compare life on Earth with life in space, and the other will discuss how space can be used for industry and science.
"A lot of people don't realize the shuttle has a lot of valuable things on it," she said. "They see people on television floating around in space, and that's it. They don't realize the valuable experiments that are done."
But McAuliffe and Morgan agreed that Wednesday's outing was more fun than work.
"We had a wonderful time," McAuliffe said. "We were able to play a lot more."
Nelson, whose district includes the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, was invited to fly aboard the shuttle because he is chairman of the House Science and Technology subcommittee on space science and applications.
But he said he has given no thought to changing careers and becoming a full-time astronaut.
"There's not been one flicker of doubt," he said of his decision to fly on the shuttle. "But I love my job. I'm grateful for this opportunity because this will enable me to be a better congressman."