What does a man do when he turns 40 other than run a marathon and a half? Well If I had rich friends and/or relatives I would have encouraged them to buy me a flight on the only commercial zero gravity flights. I've been wanting to do one of these since I read about them many years ago and though the $3800 price tag is not cheap its cheaper than I seem to remember it costing a few years ago.
Well I noticed that they had a flight running while I was in Florida and while the money isn't going to break me its more than I spent on my 1st car, more than a months mortgage payment and so it took me many months to convince myself to be this frivolous with my money - its just not in my nature. But I figured that I have no kids, I am very frugal most of the time and heck what else do I have to spend it on!
So on Sunday 2th January I got up early and drove to Kennedy Space Center for an 8:30 appointment. The flight takes about 30 people at a time. When you arrive you are given a light carb laden breakfast becuase they have found that dairy and protein increase the chance of people being sick (its not called the vomit comet for nothing). They dress you in a cool flight suit with a name tag which is worn upside down until you have been through zero-g. Everyone is assigned to a team of 10 people and each team gets a flight coach.
They recommend everyone takes motion sickness drugs to ensure a happy flight. Normally I don't need things but the thought of blowing $4k by chucking on the first parabola meant that had paid a visit to my doctor to get a prescription. Its an interesting doctor visit when you tell them you are not sick and demand drugs for such a venture - I think they thought I was crazy.
Then we all all got to watch the 'safety' video. For the most part this is a marketing speech telling us about the 'zen like', 'life changing', 'transcendental experience' that we were about to have. They walked us through the 15 parabolas - 1 martian 1/3 gravity, 2 lunar 1/6 gravity and then 12 zero gravity trips. Each last about 30 seconds followed by a 30 second 1.8g climb. The 15 parabola are chosen becuase most people feel ill after 20 so this ensures a happy flight for everyone. They also have a couple of straight a level flights during the time to help with this issue and during the increased 1.8g part we are to lie on the floor and focus on a point on the ceiling - again to avoid any nausea. The rules are simple - no jumping (the roof is close to your head and you WILL hit it) and no swimming (it doesn't actually work). Finally we got warnings about hypoxia becuase the air masks are not in the roof like a commercial plane so if they depressurize there is an increased chance we wont get enough oxygen. They encourage us to visit the bathroom since the only toilets on the plane are ziploc bags full of gel "spaceman toilets"!
The plane and company are associated with an airline and regulated by all the same FAA and TSA rules so we had to go through a TSA check and then we were onto the bus for a ride out to the Shuttle landing facility. This is a HUGE runway. After some pictures we enter the rather strange looking plane. From outside it looks like a normal plane but inside it is split into 4 sections. 3 padded areas - one for each team - and then enough seats for us all to sit on. One of the crew members has to walk us through the usual safety demo and we are off. It doesn't take long to get to our airspace and then we all take our positions with our team. I'm a little nervous at this point mainly becuase I have no idea what to expect.
There really is no indication at first that anything is happening - you can hear the engines increase a little as the plane starts to climb but since there are no windows you have to real clue that anything is happening. Slowly you start to feel the increase in gravity as pressure across your whole body and if you try to lift your arms they really feel heavy. Its not uncomfortable but very odd but then quite quickly there is no pressure and you see people pushing off and WOW you feel very light. Martian and lunar gravity is strange enough but the first zero g is even weirder - you are suddenly not touching the floor and the slightest movement makes you go feet up or collide with your team mates. You can see why they say no jumping - you find yourself on the roof without even trying.
After 30-40 seconds someone yells 'feet down' and you have to make sure your feet are closest to the floor. Gravity comes back quite quickly and you will hit the floor hard. This is why its padded. They have us do some fun things like chase M&Ms and play with water. Of course when gravity comes back you are showered with the spare M&Ms and loose water but that's all part of the fun.
Before long the 15 drops are over and really its just not long enough - I had just about got some control and it was time to sit down and come back to Kennedy. As we deplane they turn our name tags over in our 'graduation' and take more pictures.
So was it worth the money? Well I certainly had a lot of fun but its pretty hard to say it was $4k of fun other than the fact that you really can't do this for less money. I wouldn't go as far as they do and call it zen like or life changing but I would love to find a way to have another go. I suppose I had better start saving.
They took lots of pictures and soon I will get the footage from the 6 video cameras on the plane so I will be able to edit up a video - watch out for this in a few weeks. Until then here is The Zman floating....