Floating in zero gravity 32,000 feet above Newark Airport is something that someone who is afraid of heights and is prone to motion sickness probably shouldn’t.
And yet, I did.
“I’m not the daredevil girl,” I joked with Zero-G pilot Erich Domitrovits, feeling a combination of fear and excitement. “I’m the girl taking selfies by the pool.”
Domitrovits, who flies low to no gravity flights on Zero-G’s specially modified Boeing 727 aircraft, reassured me that I was in it for the time of my life.
The space entertainment company took more than 80 people to Earth’s troposphere – the lowest level in the stratosphere – earlier this month from Newark. Each ticket costs $ 7,500. (I got a free seat.) All three available flights were full.
Passengers will be harmless for just under eight minutes – nearly twice the time wealthy risk-takers Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson spent on their space escapes over the summer.
Before take off, Domitrovits explained to my group of 24 how he would steer the plane in 15 parabolic arches – acrobatic peaks similar to the ascents and descents of a roller coaster – at altitudes between 24,000 and 32,000 feet.
At the top of each arc, we would then dive into a 30-degree nose-down dive, making us weightless for 30 seconds each time.
After our briefing, we headed over to G-Force One in our Zero-G astronaut suits – a la Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and their crew in “Armageddon”.
At first, the plane was strangely silent. It was as if a stifling grip of nervousness, excitement and suspense held us all by the throats.
We were given each of the assigned seats in the rear quarter of the plane, where rows of seatbelt chairs were installed. The rest of the plane – devoid of seats, luggage compartments and bathrooms – was padded with impact-resistant white carpets.
I sat next to a married couple from Alabama who chose the weightless excursion to mark their seven-year wedding anniversary. They exchanged warm smiles and shook hands for comfort.
A row behind me was a mother of two from Florida who served as the public relations representative for astronauts like Buzz Aldrin. She, her preteen son and daughter quietly laughed at each other in preparation for takeoff.
For my part, I would sweat and calm myself down as I gently hum the chorus from “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley: “Every little thing will be fine.
As the plane began to taxi down the runway, combat officers Deb Houts, retired physics professor from Florida, and Art Scheuermann, a full-time engineer, guided passengers through a flight safety demonstration, while a team of Zero-G coaches collected our shoes. . (In addition to the flight suits, the company gave each of us a pair of thick calf-high socks to avoid hitting the soles of the shoes or having bare feet while floating).
Then it was time to leave.
Once the plane was in the air, a team of specially trained flight coaches asked us to unbuckle our seat belts, lie around the padded cabin area, and lie flat on our backs.
And everyone – from the youngest passenger, a boy of up to 7, to the oldest, a silver-haired man with a beard and bifocals – did it quietly.
No one wanted to miss a syllable of the flight trainer’s instructions.
“Pick a specific spot on the ceiling and look at it directly,” one coach said. “Turning your head or moving your eyes too much can upset your balance and make you feel a little nauseous.”
As a regular barf bag collector, I kept my eyes on the upper left corner of a ceiling pillow and said a little prayer over my stomach.
But my silent plea was abruptly interrupted by a sudden blanket of pressure sweeping over me as the plane began to climb.
My flight mates and I unsuccessfully tried to lift our legs and arms as a force twice our individual body mass pinned us to the padded floor for 10 intense seconds.
Then came a sudden lightness.
“Welcome to Mars,” a Zero-G coach said as my fellow travelers and I began to lift off the ground, bouncing slightly under conditions that mimicked the low gravity of the second smallest planet.
“We’re about a third of our normal body weight right now,” the coach added as we, the passengers, gaped and gasped as we floated around each other.
“Feet down, on your way out,” the flight attendant shouted after about 26 seconds, signaling us to the passengers that it was time to lie down, look at one point on the ceiling and wait for the next one. parabolic arch.
After visiting a simulation of Mars, we rocked, swam, and somersaulted around the moon’s weak gravitational force – at about a sixth of our Earth’s weight.
Then finally, we went totally weightless.
“Holy shit,” laughed a passenger as she slid from one end of the cabin to the other in seconds. “I’m crazy about Buzz Lightyear right now. “
The flight coaches threw bowling pins and sprayed water droplets into space without gravity so that we caught them in our mouths.
Feeling momentarily superior to the gravity-charged Earthlings, I smugly grabbed a little green candy while doing an open-air spiral flip.
We passed through each of the three low to zero gravity levels several times before the flight attendants returned us to our seats for landing. From takeoff to landing, the whole experience lasted 90 minutes.
And I got a little nauseous after our very last parabolic arc. But the air sickness did not diminish my pleasure in floating free.
As the plane’s wheels creaked on the runway, signaling our safe return to dry land, I felt a tremendous sense of relief and accomplishment.
I immediately wanted to do it again.