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1/30/2009
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NASA To Offer Free Zero-Gravity Flights

The space agency plans to work with private industry to test technologies in weightless conditions.

NASA will provide free flights to outside teams to test new technologies on flights that simulate the weightless conditions of space.

The agency announced Thursday that it's seeking technologies that could be used to improve space vehicle capabilities and support future space exploration. NASA has offered testing opportunities to U.S. companies, individuals, academic or research institutions, and government agencies. The agency plans to choose at least 20 projects for the latest round of test flights. The plans for testing are subject to funding availability.

NASA's Facilitated Access to the Space Environment for Technology Development and Training, or FAST, program provides free flight times to allow teams to test and develop emerging technologies in a zero-gravity environment and reduced-gravity environments similar to those found on the moon or Mars. The project teams are responsible for all other expenses.

Proposals are due March 20, and flights are scheduled to begin at Houston's Ellington Field in August.

NASA initially conducted reduced-gravity tests with small businesses through a pilot program in September. That paved the way for NASA to open its doors to all U.S. organizations working on technologies that could help NASA. Eventually, the agency hopes to offer suborbital flights and orbital flights and broaden its testing opportunities.

NASA runs the program from its headquarters in Washington and provides test management through its Reduced Gravity Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The agency also provides technical assistance to the FAST program through its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

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