Ruth Harrison brings buzz extra on an exciting zero gravity adventure.
An unlikely group of people chat nervously over the breakfast buffet. The accents are from all over the world: America, Britain, Croatia, Slovenia, Spain, France, Brazil and South Africa. After a pre-flight briefing, everyone dons a flight-suit with an upside-down name badge – a NASA tradition for rookies. Now it’s time to go through the security screening process before walking onto the airfield. The modified Boeing 727, G-Force One, sits on the runway and the expectant passengers climb aboard.
Climbing to 24,000 feet
All passengers fasten their airline seatbelts at the back of the plane. The front of the aircraft resembles an empty padded cell. The pilots focus on taking the plane up to the dedicated 100-mile strip of airspace while team leaders bring everyone forward to relax and prepare for their experience. Lying on the floor and focusing on the ceiling to avoid motion sickness, the passengers experience 1.8 Gs as the pilots take the plane up to 34,000 feet.
Flying a parabola, the plane begins to dive. There is no lurch, merely the sudden realisation that gravity’s pull has weakened. The first parabola gives the effect of Martian gravity (one third of Earth gravity). The experience is over too soon and the team leader shouts “Feet down, coming out,” giving everyone just enough time to move their feet beneath them before gravity comes back with a thump. After a short recovery period, the next parabola starts, this time with Lunar gravity (one sixth of Earth gravity). Another parabola of Lunar gravity and the time everyone has been waiting for is upon them…
Zero gravity is an experience unto itself. It’s nothing like the videos of astronauts floating through space. Astronauts look fluid because they know what they’re doing. There is no drag, nothing to hold them back. People experiencing zero gravity for the first time are more chaotic, giggling like children, ricocheting off the walls and rebounding off each other. The team leaders release handfuls of sweets and droplets from a water bottle, allowing people to chase the globules. However, what goes up must come down, meaning a rainfall of water is inevitable when gravity returns.
Halfway through the experience, it becomes obvious why G-Force One is affectionately known as the ‘Vomit Comet’. A couple of the participants are ushered back to their seats with a handful of sick bags. Luckily, the majority of people don’t experience the effects of travel sickness until they’ve done numerous parabolas, which is why NASA astronauts do long training sessions on the Zero-G plane.
This isn’t fake weightlessness. It is the equivalent of what astronauts experience while orbiting the Earth. The concept is simple: when a space station orbits the earth, it is constantly falling. However, it always falls just fast enough to continuously miss the ground. Therefore it goes round again, which is why they call it free-fall. To replicate this in a plane, they fly parabolas, pulling up to miss the ground, rather than going fast enough to hit orbit.
If you’ve crossed astronaut off your career list, but still wonder about that out of this world experience, this is the way to go. That’s assuming you have $5,000 to spare. The high-priced tickets earn you a mere 15 parabolas and 6 minutes of weightlessness. Occasionally, however, tickets can be obtained for free. Recently, inspiration and a Nokia N8 phone were the secret to success. The creators of the video that best convinced a panel of judges they deserved a ticket were rewarded with the ultimate experience of weightlessness.
Image 1 Source: WOMWorldNokia
Image 2 & 3 Source: GoZeroG
Zero-G flight filmed on Nokia N8: