NASA's Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program (RGSFOP) conducted at Johnson Space Center and Ellington Field in Houston, Texas, provides science and engineering undergraduates the opportunity to design and conduct experiments in a microgravity environment. The student program began roughly five years ago, although NASA developed a reduced gravity program in 1959. In the past five years, more than 1 00 different schools from around the country have participated. The KC-135 jet, which is similar to the Boeing 707, is used to produce a microgravity environment for training astronauts and testing equipment to use in space.

To create the rnicrogravity environment, the KC-135 is flown in a parabolic flight pattern. The flight pattern consists of 32 parabolas flown over the Gulf of Mexico. The parabolic arc consists of a climb and a dive at 45-degree angles with an altitude ranging from 26,000 to 34,000 feet. As the jet levels off after the climb, microgravity is simulated at the peak and lasts for approximately 20 seconds. The climbs and dives of the parabola simulate 1.8-g, which is almost twice the gravitational pull of Earth. Our experiment sought to test the effects of a reduced gravity environment on plasma movement in an inert gas discharge tube (IGDT). We hypothesized that the movement of the streamers were caused by buoyancy-driven convection, which would not occur under reduced gravity conditions.