Remember dreaming you could fly? It's exactly like that.
Before you move into weightlessness, between parabolas, g-force is about double what it is on earth. Suddenly you're 300 pounds, and it pushes your hair to your skull to your spine to your tail to the floor and the meat on your body is suddenly stone. They tell you not to look back, to keep your head still and aligned when the pressure starts. Anything to avoid vertigo, because where there's vertigo there's vomiting.
Waiting, your face becomes newly dense. You're a chipmunk carrying cheeks full of bullets. Your blood strains. Your veins are streams carrying too much silt.
And then, when the weight is worst, the invisible hands cramming your spine into the plane's padded floor lose interest and lift away. What was concrete becomes cotton. The hands reach beneath you, and lift you up into nothing, and you float. And all there is to do when this happens for the very first time is to laugh. Because it's impossible. Because it's unnatural.
But the joke in your bones is that it feels perfectly natural, like all your life you were intended to float. After all, just before you came into the world, that's what you were doing in liquid. And when your life ends and you leave, there you are again, becoming vapor. Breaking down from matter to dust to air. Floating.
Last week, a friend said, "You'll tell children and grandchildren when you're old, over and over again. Your family will be totally sick of you explaining how awesome this felt the first time." He was only half right. The grandchildren won't need my explanation. They'll know it better than I do now. These zero-g joyrides will seem as crude and dated to them as Model T Fords or ink-ribbon typewriters are for us. They'll be floating plenty.
As I sit here, I can still feel it in my body. It comes in waves. I want to hit "post," shut the application, close the laptop lid. Then bend my knees a little and shove off, push up into the air above my desk. Do the superman. Do a backflip. Bust a "crouching tiger hidden dragon" move, karate-chop martian foes mid-air. And float away into bed. It's natural now, and will remain that way forever. I miss it already.
Images: (1) A weightless photo from today (Link to full-size). (2) Floating with Dr. Buzz Aldrin in a zero gravity moment during today's preview flight. While we crouched on the floor waiting for that parabola to hit, Dr. Aldrin, one of the first two humans to touch the moon, told me that today was the first time he'd experienced weightlessness since having felt "the real thing in space" -- not counting scuba diving, which he does often because he gets homesick for floating. (Link to full-size image). Both images courtesy of Jim Campbell, Aero News Network.
Also: here's the Zero Gravity Corporation's patent listing for "A system and method is provided for rapidly reconfiguring a jet aircraft from a cargo or passenger configuration into a parabolic flight configuration." Link (Thanks, Jason)
Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: firstname.lastname@example.org.