These experiments in fundamental science where nothing weighs anything

Even if it performs some commercial flights to wealthy customers wishing, against 6,000 euros, to test the joys of weightlessness and “get laid”, the Airbus Zero-G has for main users French, German and European space agencies. For France, the National Center for Space Studies (CNES) “Organizes two campaigns per year, one in spring and the other in autumn, explains Sébastien Rouquette, head of parabolic flights at CNES. Preparing a campaign takes six months of work, and around ten research projects are selected each time. “

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The experiments deployed on board the aircraft do not all aim to develop an application for equipment or space flights. “Microgravity is above all a tool, and a wonderful tool when you work like me on movement and balance”, assures Etienne Guillaud. This CNRS research engineer at the Institute of Cognitive and Integrative Neurosciences of Aquitaine has installed two somewhat special exercise bikes in the A310: the left pedal is not fixed but slides along a small rail. . The task of the “guinea pigs” is to train the pedal with the right foot and to teach the left foot to stay in the right place, all in microgravity, while the legs no longer weigh anything. The idea is to follow, during this training, the reactions of the natural receptors located in the muscles and tendons.

“Run” after the heart

2 meters from the bikes, we are busy around another guinea pig, loaded with sensors and strapped in a rally car bucket. The goal here is, by 3D ultrasound, to measure the stresses exerted on the heart as well as its volume, when the organ and the blood it pumps no longer have any weight. “It’s a big challenge for the sonographer, insists Hervé Normand, professor at the University of Caen and hospital practitioner at the CHU of the same city. In microgravity, the heart moves 3 centimeters and changes orientation. We must run after him, immobilize him by tilting the subject and using his lungs. ” You have to be fast, precise, focused, still yourself… and not suffer a power cut as was the case for the experience during the first of the three flights in the campaign.

At the other end of the cabin, a fluid physics “manipulation” also had some problems: “These are somewhat extreme conditions for the equipment, recognizes Catherine Colin, professor at the Institute of Fluid Mechanics in Toulouse. Our pump worked well in the lab, but it didn’t like the 0 to 2 g passages very much. ” Fortunately, everything worked well during the second day of this experiment, which studies heat transfers in a boiling liquid. “The mixture of liquid and vapor behaves very differently in microgravity compared to what happens when you boil water in your pot, specifies the researcher. Microgravity allows a better understanding of the physical phenomenon. “ Interesting for those who manufacture a lot of steam and have to evacuate heat… for example nuclear power stations.

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These experiments in fundamental science where nothing weighs anything