Christine Daugherty has a strong stomach. Back when she was a Ph.D. candidate in plant physiology, Daugherty spent two years with NASA conducting experiments aboard the “Vomit Comet,” the same Boeing KC-135 airplane used to film the weightless scenes in Apollo 13.
“For those who don’t get sick, it’s the best roller coaster there is,” says the 42-year-old attorney, who now heads up all IP work at Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods Inc. In order to study the effects of outer space’s low gravity environment (known as microgravity) on plants, Daugherty’s team would ascend to 34,000 feet, followed by a sharp drop to 17,000 feet. Each free fall, called a parabola, creates about 20 to 25 seconds for that microgravity experiment, and most flights involve about 40 parabolas each, Daugherty says. Over the course of her research, she completed about 250 of them: “Fortunately I didn’t get sick.” That stomach-churning experience is coming in handy. Daugherty’s work, as senior counsel for the world’s largest meat producer, involves the occasional visit to Tyson’s meat-processing plants.