One might argue that M&Ms are tastier when gobbled up out of mid air, Pac-Man style. That is, if one were an astronaut or one of a small number of people who have ever had an opportunity to try this in zero gravity. A select few were added to that group Saturday as they boarded the specially modified Boeing 727-200 ZERO-G aircraft 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.
Next are 12 parabolas of zero gravity where flying goes from fantasy to reality. But pre-flight warnings reminded the passengers not to get carried away with the excitement of sudden weightlessness. Jumping for joy, for instance, is ill advised. Without gravity to hold you back, a small bunny hop can quickly shoot your head into the ceiling of the plane.
Frank Trice, a participant from Houston, left the flight happy but with a few new bruises. “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 company FAA-approved for weightless commercial parabolic flights. At over $5,000 a head with taxes, this experience isn’t for the faint of heart or wallet.
Already around 6,000 people have shelled out the big bucks to gulp water globules from the air and do more back flips than Nadia Comaneci while experiencing zero gravity. 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 board.
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 four, 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 capture the wonder of zero gravity for the participants, including Meeno’s first weightless experience.
“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,” explained Rapoza, who does a lot of aviation and aerospace-related photography.
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.
“I offered to pay for him, but I knew he would pay for his own, so it was perfect!” Battel said.
This was far from Battel’s first time giving Orr an unusual flight. “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 continued. “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 felt it push you into the floor. You would try lifting your arms and legs and it was just ridiculously hard to do.”
ZERO-G does more than just high-dollar commercial flights like the one that left from Vegas this weekend. As 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.”
And for companies where morale is getting a little low, Cossitt said they offer charters, as well. That’s one sure way to raise spirits.