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Chance Meeting Leads to Zero Gravity Opportunity for Alumna

Erika Neuman_veteran alumna 845x650Whether it was fate or serendipity, veteran alumna Erika Neuman, B.A. ’01, seized the rare opportunity to experience low-orbit zero gravity on May 22. The 18-year elementary school teacher was one of 25 participants aboard the Horizon 2022, Aurelia Institute’s zero-G parabolic flight.

Conference Opportunity Led to Once-in-a-Lifetime Flight

Neuman learned about Horizon 2022 when she met the founder of Aurelia Institute at a large cross-industry conference in Austin, Texas. Being invited to attend the conference was a privilege of her receiving the Pat Tillman Scholarship award toward the doctorate in education she is pursuing at Baylor.

“Aurelia is doing amazing research building humanity’s future in space, not only for the elite and wealthy,” Neuman explained. “They are blazing trails to create a culture where we can all share in space travel.”

Research and Inclusivity in Space

In keeping with the goal of the flight, some participants were conducting research on board. Though most of the studies were proprietary, Neuman mentioned one exploring gardening in space.

She also reported on the flight’s effort to maintain inclusivity by including participants with varying abilities. For example, one person was blind, another deaf, and a third was paralyzed from the waist down.

Parabolas Not for Everyone

Horizon 2022 simulated zero-G in parabolas; weightlessness in 15-second increments. Neuman, a self-described lifelong learner, was up for the experience and thought it would be a piece of cake. But the triathlete and former Army combat veteran in Iraq was in for a surprise.

She smiled, “I had flown in Blackhawks and C-130s. I thought I had this. They took us through a series of parabolas, and I was sick after the fourth. Luckily, I was just fine being an observer.”

Amazing Teaching Moment

A natural leader and role model, Neuman used the weightlessness experience as a teaching moment in her classroom of fifth graders.

“In fifth grade, we learn about gravity and force and mechanical energy,” she said, “and I was able to put these concepts into a real-world situation that engaged my students more than any text ever could.”

Neuman says she possesses an “unwavering passion for improving education and inspiring others.” She lives with her Army veteran husband and their children in San Antonio, Texas.