Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Up, Up, Up, in the Air
The routine was the same as last year. Arrival at 7:30 am, pre-flight briefing at 8:00 am. Meds at 8:30 am, board the plane at 9:00 am, take-off at 9:30 am, return at 11:00 am. We have two teams sponsored by the DOE and the two experimental rigs are bolted down next to each other in the plane. The team from Jersey City only had two people flying (one was not medically cleared), so our alternate flyer, Ken, flew along with James, Tim, Hope, and myself. During our pre-flight briefing, Lisa, Pam, and Paul boarded the plane to check that our equipment was set up and ready to go.
During the briefing, the NASA official took us through the details of the flight -- 30 parabolas of zero-G, each lasting approximately 25 seconds followed by approximately the same amount of time at the bottom of the parabola at 1.8 g. We are going to do 18 of these in a row before leveling the plane out to turn around and then another 12. This will be followed by 2 parabolas at a lunar gravity (1/6 that of Earth) and then 2 final parabolas at Martian gravity (0.4 g).
That was followed by a member of the airplane's crew taking us through the safety concerns during take-off and landing (wear your seatbelt, oxygen below the seat) before the flight physician explained the details of the medicines we were about to take. (I took the highest dosage but if I fly again, I think I will drop it down a bit since my head was definitely fuzzy before and for a long time after the flight.)
We swallowed the pills, met with the entire team to go over the experiment, lined up in single file for the march onto runway and boarded the plane. I wasn't really nervous this time, just thrilled to be there. When we got to 5,000 feet they released us from our seats (don't forget to re-buckle your seat belts so they don't fly around during parabolas) and we walked to the front of the plane to our experiment while the plane is still rapidly climbing.
It took about 15 minutes to get to our flight zone and then the 1 minute call went out. We gave each other the thumbs up and then either lay down flat on our backs or sat with our backs against the padded wall waiting for the plane to pull the nose up sharply into our first parabola. As it does, you feel this weight on your body everywhere and you are driven into the padded floor of the plane. After 20 seconds or so that weight eases and then it happens....you just float off the floor into the air! It is simply incredible to be on the ceiling of the plane, relaxed, at ease, looking down at our experiment while everywhere I looked are people just floating through the air with the biggest smiles and looks of amazement that matches my own.
We will get the video in a few weeks and I'll post it here, it does a much better job of describing the looks on our faces. Our experiment worked well, the plasma ball filaments freeze in zero-G, James and Hope felt great the entire time, Tim was just a bit sick near the end, Ken got sick around the 5th parabola, and I had just a touch of nausea but ignored it and tried to savor each and every parabola. If I had to guess, my slight nausea was due to taking photos and video with our small personal cameras and looking through the little screen. Once I stopped doing that, I felt fine.
After the flight, we took a group photo, had a post-flight briefing, gave back our flight suits, and went to get something to eat since we were all starving. From there it was another behind-the-scenes tour at the Johnson Space Flight Center where the highlight included the kitchen where they develop new foods for the astronauts.
What an incredible day!