Before you read: Click here to see amateur video footage of what Saturday’s zero gravity flight looked like.
“Yes, Neil Armstrong, I like floating in zero gravity, TOO!”
Yep. That was my first thought as I experienced complete weightlessness this past Saturday: What would be the first thing I’d say if I ever met astronaut Neil Armstrong?
The icebreaker, I thought to myself, needed to include a common denominator: That I’ve floated in complete weightlessness, too!
Upon our chance encounter, I may or may not add a teeny, itty bitty discrepancy that separates Armstrong and my excursions: While the great moonwalker experienced his in space (oh, say some millions of miles from earth), I was only about 30,000 feet above the great Sunshine State.
I guess a little explanation is needed. On Saturday, my boyfriend Josh and I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fly on a specially designed Boeing 727 and experience zero gravity (courtesy of Space Adventures). Zipped up in our complimentary navy flight suits, we and about 20 other passengers flew out of Fort Lauderdale’s airport and headed west across the state.
While there’s plenty of science and cool explanations to how we got airborne and reached zero gravity, I present the Cliff Notes version (remember: journalist, not scientist). Once we got to about 24,000 feet (basically the height a regular commercial airplane elevates to), the pilot took the plane up a certain parabolic route (basically a hill-like pattern with gentle crests and falls). Our peak trajectory was about 32,000 feet above ground. The subtle up and down motions are what simulated a zero-gravity experience (or so that’s how I’m paraphrasing the info from the flight safety video).
This flight completed about 15 parabolas. In each parabola, we experienced about 30 seconds worth of weightlessness. For 30 seconds I was like a asteroid in the sky, floating in the fetal position with no itinerary in mind. And after that half minute, I fell flat on my back. And then up again. And then down again.
The feeling of being weightless was wicked sick. One moment I’m pressed against the floor at 1.8G (that’s 1.8 times of gravity), and then suddenly I’m levitating and then flying! I was completely weightless, experiencing the same range of motions astronauts do when they are in space.
As we were initially instructed to lay flat on the plane’s specially installed cushioned floors, major anticipation crept in everyone’s stomachs. Tiny beads of sweat popped up on my forehead, my palms got stickier, and then… floating!!!! Almost simultaneously, all 20 of us passengers started levitating. And, shrieking. A group yelp could be heard as our bodies simultaneously started to defy gravity.
You can flip, somersault, spin, be a super hero, float and whatever else. Or, if you’re like me, you can just hold for dear life onto the safety rope tacked up against the plane’s walls with a completely freaked out look on your face. Whatever you wish.
Admittedly, it was weird not being in control of my own body. I mean, one second I was lying on the floor, then the next I inexplicably was floating up to the top of the plane’s cavity. And I didn’t even do anything. There’s no “float” button, no “fly like Superman” controller that you can manually use to maneuver yourself. You’re kind of at someone else’s disposal.
But that’s the cool thing. You’re in completely out of control. Here’s your chance to let your body do what it wants to do. And you just go with it. Being up in the air is kind of like being in another area where humans don’t naturally function: the ocean. You’re completely out of your own element, in a space where you don’t normally belong.
Space Adventures is giving everyone a chance to experience what astronauts experience while in space. Except not in space. Well-known figures like Martha Stewart, Steven Hawking and Joey Fatone (yes, he is well-known in some circles) have already made the leap. It’s such an incredible trip that EVERYONE should experience. Just be sure to take your dramamine.