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Flight of Anti-Gravity

Flight of Anti-Gravity
When I was a child, all of my friends wanted to grow up to be astronauts. As the world gets smaller and smaller thanks to the internet and advances in communication, outer space is one of the few places that still hold the kind of fascinating mystery that young people used to find in far-away places on our own planet. As a science fiction geek, every now and then I still entertain the fantasy that I will one day journey into the stars to float weightless in a space station somewhere, so when NCsoft offered me the chance to go on a Zero G flight, I naturally jumped at the chance. More than a few childhood dreams were fulfilled this day as Richard Garriott led a group of game industry press and executives on a technological flight of fantasy.

Zero G is a company that charters private parabolic flights using a modified Boeing 727. The parabolic maneuver used to simulate a zero gravity environment is similar to that used by NASA to train astronauts. Basically the aircraft follows an arcing flight path, one moment subjecting the passengers to tremendous g-forces and the next creating a false weightless state.

Peter Diamandis is the CEO and a co-founder of the Zero G Corporation, though he is better known as the man who offered a $10 million prize for private sector manned spaceflight. As our group arrived at the air strip, Diamandis was on hand to greet us and prepare us for the adventure to come, but

A nice little breakfast spread was laid out for us when we arrived around 9am this morning, but not many participants partook of the food. We were about to ride on something nicknamed The Vomit Comet, so the group was understandable wary about filling their bellies with munchies that might be floating serenely past us in a few short hours. I, on the other hand, ate a few danish pastries and then some strawberries and pineapple, trying to create a pleasing color palette should partially digested food be forcibly ejected from my tummy.

We were quickly split up into groups denoted by our sock colors: blue, silver, and gold. Along with the colorful socks I received as a member of the gold team I was also issued a flight suit, which thanks to my abnormally long torso gave me a very uncomfortable albeit slightly cool front and back wedgies. Once we were situated we were given some very pleasant motion sickness drugs and presented with a 30 minute orientation video, much of which I slept through. Obviously I didn't miss anything too critical as I am still alive right now. Phew.

After the training video and a run to the restroom (the plane doesn't have one) we were checked for hidden weapons and then sent out onto the tarmac to rendezvous with destiny. As our group of twenty or so adventurous souls walked slowly towards the waiting aircraft, I couldn't help but think how much cooler the whole thing would have been had we been walking in slow motion as the Top Gun theme music played. It was that sort of moment.

Garriott? You can be my wingman anytime. Especially with those lovely rat tails.

Before too long I awoke to the orders to get up and get in position. The floor of the jet was separated into three areas by color, coinciding with the teams. I settled in the very front of the cabin with my group mates, who included Peter Diamandis and Richard Garriott himself. After a short briefing we were told to take up positions, laying flat on the floor as the maneuver started.

Holy crap.
Within seconds we were pinned to the floor by tremendous g-forces, barely able to move at all. I tried to lift my head to fight the sensation, and my neck still hurts from the attempt. You don't screw around with gravity, unless...

As soon as the pressure had started, it stopped, and we began to float. Just a little bit for this first run. Initially the parabola simulates Mars gravity, meaning we suddenly weighed only 1/3 of Earth normal. More than enough weightlessness for passengers to easily do one-arm pushups on the floor. The next crushing and releasing cycle simulated moon gravity. We weren't quite completely weightless, but we were definitely rising off of the floor and into the air, often with hilarious results. Then came the third run.

Earth Below Us

The third crush groove faded and I was in the air. I am a pretty big man, so to suddenly find myself floating gracelessly towards the ceiling was completely ridiculous with simultaneously absolutely wonderful. The cabin filled with gasps and giggles as everyone found themselves twisting in mid-air. Some tried to maneuver themselves but succeeded more often than not in simple bringing their companions crashing into walls with them. I quickly learned why the instructors kept telling us not to jump, as my head slammed into the roof of the cabin from the tiniest of kicks off of the ground.

I might have been a giant goofy man in an ill-fitting blue jumpsuit, but that first journey into weightlessness was one of the most glorious moments in my life. The weightlessness only lasts 30 seconds, but they're an amazing 30 seconds. Luckily we went on to do it 11 more times before we were finally guided back to our seats. Over the course of those weightless moments we attempted to drink water that was floating in clear globes through the cabin, released peanut M&Ms into the air for some odd reason, and played a game of catch with a human ball. All the goofy things you see people in zero-g do on the Discovery Channel, all of them amazingly entertaining in context. I had planned on trying to play my PSP n a weightless environment, but someone pointed out that by the time a game loaded the 30 seconds would be over and the system would crash to the ground.
Coming Home

During the 30 minute flight back to the ground, most of the plane slept. The alternating juggle of extreme g and weightlessness took its toll on our group and we dozed off, most of us with content little smiles on our faces. On the ground we were greeted by champagne, sandwiches, and a framed picture of our group taken as we embarked on our mission. I'm going to treasure the photo forever, and the duffel bag and complimentary flight suit are sure nice, but as I stated earlier...they are nothing compared to the once-in-a-lifetime experience I just went through. I cannot thank Garriott and crew enough for making this childhood dream come true.


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