Getaway Specials

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Getaway Specials

Getaway Special (GAS) is the common name for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) small, self-contained payload program. GAS is a project designed to provide easy, low-cost access to space for individuals and organizations that wish to conduct research in a true space environment. Because the space shuttle's huge payload bay is not always full, NASA can offer available space for small experiments at reduced prices.

NASA classifies the participants in the GAS program into four classes: domestic educational institutions (experiments for the benefit of the students, not faculty or staff); the U.S. government; other U.S. entities (private or commercial); and international entities (governmental, industrial, or educational). Access to GAS flights rotates among these classes to give all potential participants a chance to conduct their experiments. Class I (domestic educational institutions) comes up in the rotation before and after every other class. Within each class applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis. As long as payloads are available, NASA's rule dictates, "No entity [an individual or organization in any of these classes] may receive more than two out of any twenty consecutive payload opportunities."

The program allows individuals and organizations a free hand in designing experiments that will be carried on the shuttle. There are a few rules that must be adhered to, including the following:

  1. The experiment or experiments must fit into a standard NASA GAS container and weigh altogether no more than 91 kilograms (200 pounds). More than one experiment (from the same group or individual) can be put into the same container.
  2. The experiment(s) must be peaceful and scientific, educational, or technical. NASA will not fly commemorative items in the GAS program.
  3. The experiment(s) should be self-powered.
  4. The experiment(s) should require only minimal crew involvement, usually limited to flipping on/off switches.

Utah State University students prepared the first GAS payload. It included ten experiments, testing the effects of microgravity on subjects ranging from fruit fly genetic structure to the thermal conductivity of a water-oil mixture. The canister was flown on STS-4 (space shuttle Columbia; launched June 27, 1982). The second payload belonged to the government of West Germany. That experiment looked at the effects of microgravity on a mixture of molten mercury and gallium. The movie director Steven Spielberg donated a GAS payload to the California Institute of Technology for two experiments looking at the effects of microgravity on oil and water separation and the direction in which roots grow.

The GAS program seeks to further educational goals at all levels and has accepted experiments from high schools and the Boy Scouts of America. On September 12, 1992, seven experiments belonging to Explorer posts throughout the country flew on Endeavour. The Explorers were invited to submit ideas for experiments in 1978, and of the thirty-eight original proposals, the final seven were selected. These experiments included capillary pumping and crystal growth under conditions of microgravity.

NASA does not require the owners of the experiments to furnish the results to NASA following the flight. However, the results, with few exceptions, should be publicly available within a year after the flight.

see also Crystal Growth (volume 3); Education (volume 1); Made in Space (volume 1); Payloads (volume 3); Payloads and Payload Specials (volume 1); Space Shuttle (volume 3).

Adi R. Ferrara


National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The First 100 GAS Payloads. Washington, DC: Goddard Space Flight Center, 1994.

"Final Rule." 14 CFR part 1214. Federal Register 66, no. 138 (2001):37410-37414.