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Hudson native takes weightless flight with NASA

Hudson native Laura (Engstrom) Kuechenmeister experiences weightlessness on a July 18 flight with NASA's Microgravity University. With her are fellow Prior Lake-Savage schoolteachers Ben Ficklin and Brent Stufft, right. (Zero Gravity Corp. photo by Robert Markowitz)1 / 5
The team of teachers from Prior Lake-Savage middle schools simulates weightlessness in front of the modified Boeing 727 on which they experienced the real thing. From left are Ben Ficklin, Terri Thomas, Becky Stark, Hudson native Laura (Engstrom) Kuechenmeister and Brent Stufft. (Submitted photo)2 / 5
Laura (Engstrom) Kuechenmeister poses for a photo with NASA astronaut Mike Fink, the current American record-holder for the most hours in space. (Submitted photo)3 / 5
The Engstrom family: standing from left, Laura and her husband Kevin Kuechenmeister, Marty (Sarah's significant other) and Sarah; front, John Engstrom and his wife Kristin, holding their two children Alex and Devin, and Bill and Judy Engstrom, holding grandson Ben. (Submitted photo)4 / 5
The former Laura Engstrom, right, celebrates a victory on the basketball court with her 1996 Raider teammates, from left, Melissa Miller, Beth Gaeu and Jaci Fink. (Submitted photo) 5 / 5

Hudson native Laura (Engstrom) Kuechenmeister, now an eighth-grade science teacher in Minnesota, had the privilege of going on a weightless flight sponsored by NASA over the summer.

Kuechenmeister, a 1996 graduate of Hudson High School, teaches at Hidden Oaks Middle School in the Prior Lake-Savage School District.

A student from the school submitted a proposal for an experiment aboard G-Force One, a jet NASA uses for its Microgravity University.

The Prior Lake-Savage student’s proposal to study the effect of zero gravity on sound was one of seven selected by NASA, which then invited a five-member teacher team from the district’s middle schools to conduct the experiment.

The robotics team from Prior Lake High School, which Keuchenmeister mentors, designed the experiment and built the apparatus for conducting it.

The apparatus was a box with a bell in it, with a robotic arm that rang the bell at the flip of a switch. It also had microphones and a data collecting device.

The teacher team spent 10 days at Johnson Space Center in July, culminating with two flights aboard G-Force One.

The modified Boeing 727 would ascend rapidly, and then dive, allowing the occupants to experience microgravity.

“It was almost unexplainable, it was so awesome -- so unique,” Kuechenmeister said of the experience.

She said the experience and the different things she saw and learned about at the Space Center will contribute greatly to her teaching.

Kuechenmeister is the daughter of Bill and Judy Engstrom of Hudson.

Bill is a designer-draftsman at GEA Process Engineering Inc. (formerly Niro). Judy is the administrative assistant for her brother’s small Ancell biotechnology company in Stillwater.

Kuechenmeister said her parents’ influence helped spark her interest in science.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Gustavus Adolphus University and returned to UW-La Crosse for a master’s degree and teaching certificate after two years of working as a youth leader at a Lutheran church in Reedsburg, Wis.

She’s now in her 10th year of teaching with the Prior Lake-Savage district.

Kuechenmeister said she appreciates the education she received in the Hudson School District.

“I would say I had really great teachers all-around, not just in science, but throughout my education,” she said. “They were instrumental in helping me become who I am today.”

Her first memory of a science project came from making a model of the solar system in Mr. Tim Halverson’s fourth-grade classroom.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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