Xeni Flies Zero-G

Next week, on Wednesday September 15, I'm going on a zero-gravity flight about 32,000 feet above earth.

The company operating this flight is ZERO-G, whose founder Peter Diamandis is also the man behind the Ansari X-Prize competition. I invited Dr. Diamandis to speak at Wired Magazine's NextFest earlier this year, met him there, and learned he'd been working on this program for more than ten years.

The flight I'm taking next week (for NPR and Wired News) is part of ZERO-G's five-city media launch. Soon, they'll begin a commercial service on specially-equipped Boeing 727-200s. For about $3,000 US, passengers will be able to experience about 20 doses of parabolic weightlessness during a 90-minute trip.

Nothing like this has ever been offered to American consumers before. ZERO-G is the only company with FAA approval to conduct weightless flights for the public within the US.

NASA operates flights similar to this for training astronauts (Link), but not to the public. Space Adventures — the company that made space tourists out of Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth (and, almost, N'Sync's Lance Bass) — sells "vomit comet" flight experiences to paying passengers, but they cost closer to $10K and depart from a remote location in Russia. The combined costs of the flight, the prep, and getting to the departure site add up to a hefty five-figure sum. With the launch of this new service in the US, zero-G above the earth will now only cost a few G.

I've never done anything like this before. What will weightlessness feel like? A rollercoaster? Or floating in water, but without the water? When I was little, I used to have lots of recurring dreams about flying — the dream-sensation of weightlessness felt so vivid, once I half-woke-up and sleep-jumped right off a flight of stairs. How is it that our bodies already know what zero-g feels like? Are we remembering what it felt like to float in utero? That waking dream of flight and floating — it's something each of us physically understand. I'm looking forward to feeling the real thing.

My grandfather was an amateur astronomer. He taught me a lot of things about stars and space when I was a kid. He was there, downstairs in the living room, when I realized I couldn't fly that day — about halfway down the stairs. He picked me up, held me in his arms, wiped my tears, and probably had to work really hard at not laughing.

Later, after lots of band-aids and kleenex, he explained what gravity was. I remember feeling really sad and crying all over again when he told me, "Honey, people just can't float like that." I wish he could still be here now, and float with me next Wednesday.