updated 9/9/2010 5:20:57 PM ET 2010-09-09T21:20:57

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 9, 2010 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) Foundation kicks off its fifth annual Weightless Flights of Discovery program in Cincinnati, OH on Tuesday, Sept.14, 2010, with the ultimate science experiment – the release of 2,000 ping pong balls in zero gravity.

The ping pong ball release represents the first time an experiment testing Newton's Laws of Motion is being conducted by all 30 participating teachers during a flight. Designed by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder, a Boston-based science teacher who will be joining the teachers on the flight, the experiment will test the affect of zero gravity on objects of smaller versus greater size and mass (i.e. ping pong balls versus teachers). During the 30-second experiment, teachers will be able to observe how they react and interact with each other and the ping pong balls, and each other's natural movement in weightlessness. 

Experiments are a key aspect of the Weightless Flights of Discovery program since it was first launched in 2006. Participating teachers work in teams to create experiments that test Newton's Laws Motion during lunar, Martian and zero gravity. Teachers then take video and photos of their experiments back to the classroom to share with their students, inspire them to get excited about science and math, and ultimately choose careers in those areas.

After flying 1,120 teachers on 39 flights during the last five years, educators report program participation has positively impacted student interest in science and math. In fact a recent survey of teachers who participated during the program's earlier years found that:

  • Nearly 92 percent of teachers noticed an increase in their students' interest level in science overall after sharing their experience.
     
  • Teachers reported that approximately 83 percent of students who were previously disinterested in science and math became notably interested and/or engaged.
     
  • According to more than 75 percent of teachers surveyed, students expressed an interest in continuing to study math and science in high school or college
     
  • According to more to approximately 80 percent of teachers surveyed, students' expressed their desire to one day, pursue a career in a science or math related field

In 2010, the Northrop Grumman Foundation Weightless Flights of Discovery will take place in Cincinnati (Sept. 14), Memphis (Sept. 16), Gulfport, Miss. (Sept. 20), Salt Lake City (Sept. 22), and Honolulu (Oct. 4).  A sixth flight was held earlier this year in McAllen, Texas. Each flight will take approximately 30 science and math middle school teachers through a series of parabolas that create weightlessness. 

 "The Weightless Flights of Discovery program was launched with the goal of inspiring teachers, who would in turn inspire their students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education," said Sandra Evers-Manly, president of the Northrop Grumman Foundation. "This program has succeeded beyond our expectations and is now very much in demand. We're delighted that 180 more teachers will join the 1,120 teachers nationwide who have participated to date."

Northrop Grumman is partnering with the Zero Gravity Corporation to offer the Weightless Flights of Discovery program, one of several initiatives the Northrop Grumman Foundation sponsors to promote education and student interest in STEM fields.

Before each flight, selected teachers participated in a full-day workshop. Teachers then worked with their students to develop experiments to be conducted in environments simulating lunar gravity, Martian gravity and weightlessness (zero gravity). Following the one- to two-hour flight, each teacher then shares his or her experiences with the students back in the classroom.

The program targets middle-school math and science teachers primarily because the United States is experiencing a shortage of college graduates in these disciplines, a development that bodes ill for the nation's industries that depend on talented scientists and mathematicians. Because studies have indicated most children make the decision to pursue math and science education and careers during middle school, Northrop Grumman developed the Weightless Flights of Discovery to engage teachers, key influencers in the lives of students during these crucial years.

"Our foundation's mission is to develop unique, sustainable and national-level programs to inspire interest in STEM subjects, and the Weightless Flights of Discovery initiative follows through on that commitment," said Evers-Manly.

"Our nation's leaders, including President Obama through his 'Educate to Innovate' initiative, recognize the need to strengthen STEM education in the United States. Our Weightless Flights of Discovery program, now in its fifth year, is very much aligned with this important national goal," she said.

National Aerospace Week, organized by the Aerospace Industries Association, brings attention to the aerospace and defense industry's strategic contributions to the economy, national security and technological innovation of the United States. To learn more about the industry and its 800,000 person workforce, please visit www.nationalaerospaceweek.org

To learn more about the Northrop Grumman Foundation Weightless Flights of Discovery, please visit www.northropgrumman.com/goweightless , or follow the progress of the teachers during their flights on Facebook ( http://www.facebook.com/GoWeightless ) and Twitter ( http://twitter.com/goweightless ).

The Northrop Grumman Foundation supports diverse and sustainable programs for students and teachers. These programs create innovative education experiences in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

© Copyright 2012, GlobeNewswire, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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