This is both the most scary and exhilarating time in history to be alive. The barrier to entry for virtually anything has dramatically decreased.
For the news biz, that’s scary. Anyone with a smart phone thinks they can be a journalist, and misinformation spreads like wildfire. Some of my older family members regurgitate headlines they read on Facebook, posted by friends or sources they assume to be credible. To me, that is the what we should call fake news as opposed to attacking the established local news organizations that still believe in seeking truth. To attack those credible organizations as fake news is to undermine our democracy. But I digress.
For those with moonshot dreams, like becoming an astronaut, you’re blessed to be living in this moment. I was talking to Ray Cronise, NASA engineer and co-founder of ZERO G, lamenting over the fact I nearly threw up during my experience with weightlessness.
He reminded me that astronauts deal with the same nausea, and that I should be stoked because my dream of becoming an astronaut is attainable now more than ever, given the emergence of private space travel and companies like SpaceX, who have made the possibility of traveling 33 million miles away more tangible than ever before. He’s right. They’ve also made space travel in general more affordable through the reuse of rocket parts that used to be one and done.
I got my first taste of what I imagine astronauts go through when I flew with Zero Gravity Corporation. The experience they offer is the only commercial opportunity on Earth for people to experience true weightlessness without going to space. It was wild.
We arrived on a Sunday morning to check in, eat a carb heavy meal that included a pastry, bagel, apple juice, and water. There were packs of Dramamine on the table. I kind of internally chuckled, feeling confident I am tough and rarely get any sort of motion sickness. I am a pilot and experience Gs somewhat regularly. Well, I was wrong haha! Do the dramamine. Again, I digress.
We suited up, face masks and all, because…corona. You are asked to put your name plate upside down until after your flight. It is a right of passage. After leaving our belongings in a secured room, with just my cell phone which I never leave, I headed toward security at Long Beach airport, and boarded the reconfigured 727. There are a bunch of seats in the back, but the majority of the plane is hollowed out with padding for the walls. You’re separated into groups by the color of your socks; mine were gold.
And we were off. The entire flight was over one hour. We flew fifteen parabolas in all. A parabola looks something like the below amateur drawing. Forgive my utter lack of artistic skill.
We flew the sharp-angled ascent from 19,000 to 35,000 feet. We pulled about 1.8 Gs which is like feeling nearly twice your body weight barreling down on you. It’s the opposite of what we feel as we approach the top, for the first parabola.
The pilots ease us into the sensation by simulating what Mars would be like. It isn’t weightless, but you feel lighter. The gravitational pull on Mars would make a 150 pound person feel like they weigh about 50 pounds. You feel light on your feet, and it’s SUCH a strange sensation. The second and third parabolas simulate the moon. A 150 pound person would feel about 25 pounds. The next 12 parabolas are weightless.
I started doing flips and was having the time of my life. You get about 30 seconds at the top of each parabola before a flight director yells “feet down!” And you better put your feet down pronto, or else it might be your head that hits the ground first.
I probably looked drunk, or at the very least I learned I would not make a graceful astronaut. And, I nearly lost my breakfast. About midway I felt so nauseous I couldn’t take it. And to think astronauts train like this, and do 100 parabolas. Hence why they call it the “vomit comet.” I watched with envy as the 15 or so others on the aircraft had the time of their lives, bopping around with skittles and water floating in the air.
I flew once with the Blue Angels and pulled 7.5 Gs of force. Sure I passed out, but never felt sick. This was next level.
Matt Gohd, one of the ZERO G owners, told me my nausea was likely caused by the fact I had been recording on my phone. I didn’t eat much of the carb heavy breakfast. And I went wine tasting the day before. Oops. Don’t be like me.
So now, I chewed some anti-nausea gum. One of the staff put her foot on me so I would stop floating. They brought a cold cloth, and eventually, I felt normal again. Thankfully, I never threw up. And you know what? I would do it 100 times over.
As I step down from the plane and onto solid ground, a woman with a nice smile flips my name tag right side up. We made it. It was worth every nauseating second. It was an out-of-body, and out-of-this-world experience. A dream come true. I am ready to go to space!! Elon, you hear me??