Gravity Games

The newest in-flight entertainment: weightlessness

Oct 1, 2004
Outside Magazine
Close Encounters

If 30 seconds of weightlessness sounds like a cruel tease, consider a week at the International Space Station. For a measly $20 million, Arlington, Virginia–based SPACE ADVENTURES provides six months of celestial prep at Russia's Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, outside Moscow, and a round-trip Kazakhstan–ISS ticket on a Soyuz-TMA rocket. ¶ So far, only investment banker Dennis Tito and software mogul Mark Shuttleworth have gone all the way. But if your body isn't space-ready, no amount of money will get you into orbit. Millionaire Greg Olsen, 59, started training but was set back in June after failing a requisite physical."You want someone who's in excellent health," says Stacey Tearne, director of communications for Space Adventures. "Lance Armstrong would be a great ...

zero gravity

SIT AND SPIN: You, too, can space out in zero G

YOU ARE NOW FREE TO FLOAT ABOUT THE CABIN. This fall, Fort Lauderdale–based Zero Gravity hopes to begin offering daring customers the opportunity to make like astronauts. No, they're not selling seats on a space shuttle. But if Zero Gravity has its way, passengers will soon be able to board a Boeing 727 at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport for a "weightless flight" that simulates the fun and nausea of outer space. Once the plane reaches an altitude of 24,000 feet, the pilots will begin a 45-degree climb to 32,000 feet, then make a gradual descent. As the plane crests this arc, passengers—no more than 27 per flight—will have up to 30 seconds of total weightlessness, complete with spins, flips, and ceiling walks.

Known in space circles as "vomit comets," such flights have been used in NASA training since 1973, as well as in films like Apollo 13 for scenes that required floating actors. "It's very similar to what you'd feel in space," says astronaut Rex Walheim, 42, who experienced the real thing on an April 2002 trip to the International Space Station.

Not surprisingly, the yo-yo flights have come under FAA scrutiny. Zero Gravity has already postponed its launch date twice this year while its partner, the transport company Amerijet, awaits official approval. "We're taking a hard look at everything in their request," says Kathleen Bergen, an FAA spokeswoman.

The companies expect to be cleared for takeoff by the end of the year, at which point they would begin offering a half-day of training and two hours of ozone grazing (time enough for 30 climbs and descents) for around $3,000 per person, as well as packages for private parties. The flights, all supervised by three coaches, also offer customers samplings of what gravity is like on Mars and the moon—about a third and a sixth of Earth's pull, respectively. But the main draw will always be the big zero.

"If you can't have fun in zero G," says Walheim, "you don't know how to have fun."

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