This adventure was definitely the biggest item on my bucket list – flying in zero gravity.
Things I had no eyed deer I would be able to say about zero gravity:
- That I can boast that I have done a one fingered press up
- I dropped 60kg in 5 seconds
- I genuinely got to feel like an astronaut
- I got to meet George Takei and he really is a nice bloke!
- I’m about the only person that can’t do a Vulcan salute
- I missed my opportunity to run up a wall like in the movies
- I’d never heard of them before but now I’m a big fan of Martian and Lunar gravity
I have wanted to experience zero gravity and float in space ever since I was a child. I remember that when my Dad took my sister and I out for Sunday drives I used to sit in the back seat and beg him to go faster and faster up and down hills in order to get that floating sensation in my stomach. In December last year, I even went to Sweden specifically to stay in a UFO in a tree. My team at work then tolerated me using pictures of the same UFO tree house to market granny flats with the corny strap line “for those people who want more space in their backyard.” But I never thought I would be able to experience genuine weightlessness in true astronaut style, as I don’t have the spare multi-million dollars in my pocket required to be a space tourist, or even the cheap in comparison $200,000 for a sub-orbital flight.
Then I discovered Zero G, part of Space Adventures, the private space flight and space tourism company which has sent private citizens to the international space station. For a much lesser sum they allow you to experience zero gravity from much closer to the earth in a modified Boeing 727-200 known as G-Force One. Stephen Hawking, co-founder of Google Sergey Brin, Martha Stewart and Buzz Aldrin have all done it. I subscribed to their email newsletter list and every issue read it and then put it to the side and thought “one day”. Then I received the one with the opportunity to fly with George Takei in Las Vegas and that sealed it, I made the decision that it was now or never, (admittedly after a glass of wine) and pressed the button to sign up.
As it turned out, the date of the flight coincided with me doing two marathons (my first and last) within a six day period so I justified the purchase by reasoning that weightlessness would be just what my tired muscles would need. Unfortunately the trip did not get off to the most auspicious start thanks to Jetstar cancelling my flight out of Ayers Rock where I had just completed the Australian Outback marathon. Consequently I missed my scheduled flight to Las Vegas and arrived a day later than intended. I don’t think I have ever felt so panicked that I might miss an experience and had a sleepless night that the same flight would be cancelled the next day too. Ironically when I did the race against the Puffing Billy steam train earlier in the year the commuter train I was on broke down on the way to the race. (Note to self: when I do the Sweat vs Steam race against a paddle steamer later in the year, don’t rely on the ferry for any of the journey.)
Finally safely ensconced in Las Vegas within walking distance of the venue, I couldn’t sleep with excitement (and a bit of trepidation) the night before and got to our meeting point early. As I entered the room I was curious to see what other people had chosen to do a Zero G flight. I know some of my friends thought it was a double whammy of geekyness and therefore I was being branded a nerd, and I was reminded of that Groucho Marx quote “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” I walked over to the table of “flight friendly” breakfast foods – bagels and fresh fruit and met my fellow travellers and the coaches( who turned out to be lovely normal people). The Zero G flight has also been referred to as the vomit comet due to some people experiencing motion sickness, so the food was specifically chosen to be less likely to make a star re-appearance during the flight. I chatted to a number of the other flyers, many of whom to my surprise, had done the flight before, and are indeed frequent flyers. I was secretly hoping I didn’t get addicted as it would be an expensive hobby to keep up. The coaches spent a lot of time chatting to us and I learned a bit more about their flight and research backgrounds and immediately forgot my nerves – I knew I was in the hands of very competent knowledgeable people with a real passion for what they are doing. One coach’s day job even involves working on a Mars mission. He also admitted that he had to dress up as a hamster recently on Zero G for an advert. Zero G itself, does testing for various companies including NASA, recent projects go from 3D printing as a fast way of manufacturing parts on site in space, to testing the worlds first beer designed for consumption in space (the beer developed by Australian brewing company 4 Pines.)
After breakfast we excitedly get into our flight suits (complete with Starship enterprise badge) and after being introduced to the pilots, are shown the safety briefing, by which time all the nerves of the previous week disappeared and I watched the screen with pure excitement. We learn how the plane achieves zero gravity through a series of aerobatic manoeuvres known as parabolas. The plane climbs to 24,000 feet then at an angle of 45% climbs to 32,000 feet during which time you experience the pull of almost 2Gs. Next comes the zero gravity, and then the plane descends, levels out, and starts again. The key instructions we were given seemed pretty obvious when we were told them but I have to confess that I did disobey at least one of them. Rule one is not to try to swim when you are weightless– the body’s natural response is to try to swim in zero gravity and swing your arms and legs about – but it really is futile, you look silly, and may end up kicking someone where it hurts. Second is don’t jump, because you are going to propel a long way. Third is to put your feet down when you are told the plane is coming out of zero gravity. You don’t really want to be spinning on your head at a height at that point. I can see a few people panicking here – what if I don’t get my feet down in time? I’m pretty sure my travel insurance won’t cover this one, it doesn’t even cover riding on Segways. At the end of the briefing we are asked if we have any questions, and a voice pipes up, has anyone had sex on Zero G? The answer is no, logistically it would be quite difficult and it is pointed out that each stint of zero gravity is only 30 seconds. Although arguably for some, this probably wouldn’t be an issue.
After the briefing and security screening we set off on the bus to the airport. Excitingly security was high as Hillary Clinton was flying in to Las Vegas this day. Whilst waiting for security to let us through I occupy myself by Googling the tail fins of the private jets parked around us to see who of the rich and famous is parked here today. After posing for photos we show our boarding passes and enter the plane through stairs at the rear. The plane is empty apart for seats at the back, the rest looks like a big padded cell with two very small windows. After a safety briefing it is off into the 100 mile airspace in which the plane will perform its manoeuvres. This is where the excitement really builds. When we are levelled out and nearly at the airspace we unclip our belts and it is time for one more photo before we sit in our sections. It is at this point I discover that I am quite literally the only person on the flight who seems incapable of doing the Vulcan salute and whilst everyone poses perfectly for a photo I can be seen looking frustrating at my fingers that refuse to get in line. I have since discovered that allegedly Zachary Quinto in his role of Spock couldn’t immediately do the Vulcan salute either and had to have his fingers glued together.
Photo credit: Al Powers / Zero Gravity Corporation
Next we are divided into sections of the plane, and I am lucky enough to be in the “gold” section with George, his husband Brad, Rod Roddenberry and The Insider anchor Louis Aguirre. Our coach does one last explanation of what happens next and we wait with anticipation as I explain excitedly how I have always wanted to run up a wall and flip like you see on the movies. I’m told this is possibly ambitious as you can’t control your movements. I was unperturbed, I had researched a few moves in the earlier weeks and set my heart on this one. Originally, when researching what moves I could do whilst weightless I thought I was being completely original by planning to do a levitating cross leg yoga position – but on doing the research of previous flight photos it appeared that absolutely everyone thinks of that one, and secondly, I can’t cross my legs properly – so I crossed it off my list.
Then it starts, we are told to lie down and feel the 2G (2 x gravity) as the plane makes it ascension. This first time I was really aware of the extra pull on my body but I realised that every time afterwards I didn’t notice it so much – your limbs just feel a bit heavier. Then we experience Martian gravity, only weighing about a third of our body weight, and then two sessions of Lunar gravity, weighing only a sixth of our normal body weight. Weighing only 10kg rather than my usual 60kg I became a master of one handed, indeed one fingered press ups and jump and clap press ups. I really hope these come out on the video we receive so I can tell wild stories when I’m older of how super fit I was. I am having so much fun doing this and I look round and all I can hear and see is giggles. Zero G deliberately do these micro gravity sessions first so that flyers bodies can acclimatise before the big one – the real zero gravity that we all came for.
At first I lie there and it feels like nothing is happening, then suddenly my body rises and floats out of control, and of course I see myself about to float up into a direct crash with George Takei and I start swimming frantically. Then we are told feet down, thankfully the return to normal gravity is gradual and not the sudden need to right yourself that I think some of us were panicking about. Cue giggling from everyone. Next we all come down to the end of the plane and lie down arms linked ready to push off for our superman manoeuvre. We wait as we go through the 2G and then suddenly we push off the wall and all begin to rise but at different rates and we get some fun, but not graceful, Superman shots.
After a few parabolas of playing, feeling fine and learning how to control myself I
suddenly feel that I may need the sick bag that we were all given in our top pockets after all. Funnily enough a few members of the crew had asked me a few times already if I was OK, so they must have spotted the signs before I did. I tried a few tactics to get rid of the feeling, resorting to lying there motionless and just letting gravity take me whether it felt like – I imagined myself as the spaceman in the movies when he accidentally detaches from the mother ship and floats off into the abyss. Unfortunately this didn’t work and on the next zero g my flight friendly breakfast paid me a visit. Now, I have to say, I was impressively quick on the draw with the sick bag, but I hadn’t quite considered that although I hit the bottom of the bag in 2G – it all came back to splat me in the face for the zero gravity bit – several times.
I was dutifully escorted to the seats at the end of the plane and strapped in, along with a supply of sick bags and wet towels. There are photos at the end of the trip where you can just see the top of my head behind everyone else having fun. I hate to think what was captured on video. My dreams of being an astronaut shattered I watched the rest of the action over the top of my bag and didn’t get to play with the liquids or the candy when people got to catch them in their mouths. (Well technically I did get my own liquid to play with.) Trust me to be the statistic on the plane that was actually sick whilst everyone else seemed fine. Although I shouldn’t be surprised as I also threw up whilst attached to a skydive instructor and can’t do more than 2 forward rolls at trampoline class without having to sit out for awhile. My best laid plans of running up the wall were definitely not going to happen. I sat and counted down the parabolas until the 15th was over and I knew we were heading back to firmer ground. Then it was announced they had time for one bonus parabola… Bleurghhhhhh…
Back on the ground we pose for photos and have our name badge flipped over to say we are no longer zero g flight virgins. Then it is back to the hotel for our re-gravitation celebration where we excitedly discussed our experiences and get our certificates. Despite my stomach letting me down, I am now a frequent flyer with associated privileges and I would definitely repeat the experience if the whole flight consisted of Martian and Lunar options. I probably wouldn’t go for Zero G’s wedding offering though, despite being the easiest way to lost weight for your wedding, it probably wouldn’t be the most romantic experience with my track record!
I flew on a Zero G flight with George Takei as part of a joint Zero G and Roddenberry Adventures adventure. As well as the zero gravity flights which depart from a number of US airports, Zero G also offer weightless workshops where you can learn more about gravity and design experiments. I’m pretty tempted by Roddenberry’s Touching the Stars trip next year visiting the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Johnson Space Center, and the Kennedy Space Center plus astronaut training experience and lunch with an astronaut. Last time I went to an astronaut talk it was Korea’s first astronaut Yi So-yeon. Yi beat out more than 36,000 South Koreans who applied to become the first Korean astronaut. Then she came to Sydney and the first question she got from the audience was “what happens when you fart in space…..”
This is not a sponsored post. This represents my personal opinion.