Saturday, July 18, 2009 | 9:02 p.m.
Beyond the Sun
One might argue that M&Ms are tastier when gobbled up out of mid air, Pac-Man style. Only a small number of people, besides astronauts, have ever had such an opportunity to try this in zero gravity. A select few boarded the specially modified Boeing 727-200 ZERO-G aircraft Saturday morning at the Signature Air Terminal at McCarran International Airport for the ultimate adult space camp adventure.
During the ZERO-G flight, participants undergo 15 periods of reduced gravity. To limit motion discomfort, the first parabola simulates the atmosphere of Mars where gravity is about one third that of Earth. No need for “girl push-ups” in this environment, where the least fit flyers can easily do one-handed push-ups with their reduced body weight. Each roughly 30-second period of reduced or zero gravity is followed by a period of 1.8 times the normal gravitational force, where flyers lay flat on their backs.
Next, the pilot takes the plane into two lunar parabolas where participants experience 1/6 gravity, similar to the conditions felt by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 moon mission. Participants even get to wear flight suits equipped with pockets to hold cameras and barf bags, just in case.
The fun continues with 12 parabolas of zero gravity where you can live out all of your best flying dream fantasies and astronaut ambitions.
The informational pre-flight video warned passengers of a few seemingly obvious tidbits that may be overlooked when the giddy childlike excitement of weightless overtakes them. Flyers are advised not to jump because, without gravity to hold you back, a small bunny hop can quickly shoot you to the ceiling of the plane.
Frank Trice from Houston said after the flight, “It was just so cool. You just push off a little bit and you go flying so I kind of bashed my head into the lights during the first zero-G phase. I did a lot of the flips and back flips.”
ZERO-G is the only FAA-approved company for weightless commercial parabolic flights. At more than $5,000 a head with taxes, this experience isn’t for the faint of heart or wallet.
For a trip unlike any other where you can gulp water globules from the air and do more back flips than Nadia Comaneci, about 6,000 people have shelled out the big bucks to experience a zero-gravity environment. Some famous ZERO-G alums include Martha Stewart and Professor Stephen Hawking. Several passengers on this Las Vegas flight won contests or raffles to gain their spots on the flight.
Cat Perkins of Yorkshire, England, won her flight from a slogan competition. “It was for Toshiba and the new Star Trek film. Lucky for me, because I’m not a Trekkie, the characters were the same in the new film as in the old series so I wrote this really cheeky, slightly naughty poem about the Star Trek characters and they said I had won.”
Going into the flight, she said she was “more excited than nervous, but now it’s becoming really real and I’m starting to get a bit jittery.”
When asked what she was most looking forward to, Perkins had an interesting response. “My daughter, who is 4, she has this little kitten stuffed animal named Meeno and she has this little photo album of all the places she’s been on holiday, so I’ve mocked up a little space suit for Meeno.”
Bryan Rapoza, a professional photographer, was on board to catch every silly and wacky moment, including Meeno’s first weightless experience. Rapoza, who does a lot of aviation and aerospace-related photography, said, “Obviously there is no gravity so you’re going to need a little bit of experience to move around, though the technical aspects of the camera work the same up there.”
Friends and former business partners John Orr and JB Battel came to Las Vegas to take a ride on the ZERO-G plane to celebrate Orr’s birthday. Battel said, “I offered to pay for him but I knew he would pay for his own so it was perfect!”
Orr said, “The best gift he had ever gotten for me was a chance to fly a 747. We’ve done hang gliding, we’ve done fighter jets, but this ranks right up there.“
“I didn’t feel nauseous at all,” Orr said. “I had as much fun with the 1.8 Gs as I did with the zero Gs. It was a great sensation because you could feel it push you into the floor. You would try lifting your arms and legs and it was just ridiculously hard to do.”
In case you’re growing jealous of the privileged bunch who can afford to indulge in such an experience, ZERO-G does more than just these high-dollar commercial flights.
ZERO-G staff member Krysta Cossitt explained, “We do individual commercial flights like this one and educational flights for teachers. Teachers will take experiments up so they can take them back to the classroom to teach math, science, that sort of thing. We also do charters if a company wants to charter the plane for a team or group.” Sounds like the perfect way to literally boost company morale.