>>>Zero gravity
Foto: Novespace / Air Zero G

Zero gravity

Who hasn’t dreamed of levitating in the void, like an astronaut? The most intrepid travellers make it a reality on-board parabolic flights. Total weightlessness without leaving the atmosphere.
S
tephen Hawking has been one of the 1,000 tourists who become astronauts for a few minutes each year. He enjoyed it more than anyone. After an entire life dedicated to the cosmos, at last he was able to ‘visit it’. In reality, he did not journey to outer space, but he was able to experience the sensation of floating in the void, like a true space traveller. “I could have gone on and on. Space here I come,” he commented, with his wonderful sense of humour.
Passengers are divided into groups of about 10 people. Each group is accompanied by one or two instructors
Foto: Novespace / Air Zero G

Astronauts from 8 to 90

Anyone can take part in this experience, as long as they have 5,000 dollars, which is the average price of a parabolic flight. Crew members can age from 8 to over 90 years old. They are normally celebrities, adventurers and, particularly, scientists wanting to experience one of the most astonishing physical phenomena.

He needed no explanation to understand the workings of a suborbital parabolic flight, the only way to experience zero gravity without leaving Earth’s atmosphere. It takes place on-board commercial planes, which, following a complex manoeuvre, manage to make their passengers float, as if they were in a rocket. In short: the plane ascends to 7,300 m and the pilot raises its nose to 45°, with the engine at full power. On reaching 10,000 m, the pilot pulls the nose down, and commences a parabolic fall. Newton’s apple, but with a jet engine. The engines continue driving forwards and the plane accelerates to such a speed that it compensates for the gravity of our planet, reducing it to zero. And suddenly, there is complete weightlessness, for several, unforgettable seconds. How many exactly? It depends on the company. The North American company ZERO-G offers zero gravity that lasts 30 seconds; Air Zero G, a joint project between Novespace and Avico, and Russian company Starcity Tours average 22 seconds. Not long enough? No need to worry, the plane repeats the manoeuvre 10 to 15 times.
The gravity-free experience lasts about five minutes, but this time is more relative than any other. The experience is so intense that these seconds stretch out like chewing gum. We lose our bearings, confuse up and down, and it is almost impossible to control our movements. This is why, the first time, almost everyone behaves as if they were in water. They swim breaststroke or kick, as if suddenly being abducted. “Every movement, even the simplest of them, has to be reinvented,” says astronaut Jean-François Clervoy, chair of Novespace, with more than 3,000 parabolic flights behind him.
ZERO-G uses a Boeing 727 for its parabolic flights, while Air Zero G defies gravity in an Airbus 310
Foto: ZERO-G

To another level

Suborbital flights are the commercial and relatively affordable version, but the journey can go far beyond what they offer. The company Space Adventures includes customers on real space missions to fly over the moon, just 100 km from its surface. They can also visit the International Space Station.

During the flight, weightlessness is not all you experience. While ascending, the exact opposite happens: hypergravity, our bodies weigh double what they do on earth. To understand these phenomena, passengers are given an orientation course before flying. However, the theory is not always effective the first time. They have just 20 seconds to understand that the void is empty. That, to keep control of yourself, all you can do is push: from roof to floor, side to side. Others prefer to let go and drift. They will sometimes bump into each other in the air, and pose for photos and videos. The aeroplanes have cameras installed for participants to relive the feat at home, or on social networks. The feat or celebration: the company ZERO-G holds zero-gravity weddings, for instance. An original way of saying I do.
During the flight, you can play with fluids. When there is no gravity, exploding a water balloon or drinking any liquid becomes complicated
Foto: Novespace / Air Zero G

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