Xeni flies Zero-G, part 2: word to the weightless wise

In a few days, God willing, I'll be floating around on one of the first ever commercial weightless flights in the USA. Friends, colleagues, and astro-nerdy strangers have been offering all sorts of advice ranging from scientifically substantiated to silly.

Some have even suggested some crash-course reading over the weekend. Lloyd Fonveille says that Air & Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement by Gaston Bachelard is a must: "Dense writing but amazing stuff about flying and flying dreams… he argues that images and dreams of flying are the highest state of the imagination, and emblems of the mental place where all real creativity happens."

As I prepare for Wednesday's adventure, I'll share some of this microgravity advice here on BoingBoing. I'll start with insights from experienced zero-g flier Raffi Krikorian of MIT (and O'Reilly).

I rode on NASA's KC-135a a few years ago (I was running a series of experiments to determine whether the brain's ability to localize sound was affected by being in a microgravity environment — the anwer is that it is, but I digress), and it was an awesome experience.

NASA requires a lot of pre-training before they even allow you to get on the plane (a series of lectures about what to do if your sinus collapses, a hyperbaric chamber ride to have you experience what happens in the case of a rapid decompression of the cabin as the KC-135 is a single hulled plane), and going through that type of training is quite exhaustive. You spend a day in the classroom, then you spend a day learning how to work the emergency equipment and how to breathe through a reverse pressurized mask.

When the day of the ride comes, everybody tells you a few pieces of advice

1. bring jolly ranchers and gum

2. eat bananas and muffins for breakfast (extra credit for eating food coloring) [Ed note: I suppose this way, everything will look super-pretty and colorful IF YOU HURL IT ALL OVER THE FUCKING PLANE]
3. don't look out the window when flying.

As we were climbing for our first drop, I was chewing my gum like mad. The common advice is to get your mouth a little wet and to distract yourself of what was going to happen next. And then, all of a sudden, you lift right off the floor. I, personalily, was terrified on the first drop. I flailed around trying desperately to grab hold of something. I grab onto the floor, and it must have been amusing to see me hanging upside down, trying to pull myself down.

After that, it gets a lot easier. You just float around. Pushing yourself off the walls, and just bounce around. I was busy running an experiment, but it seems as though you will have time to play around.

What they don't tell you is that you will experience portions of negative gravity where you are pulled for the roof. Those freak you out. You're hanging out, chillin' in the air, and then all of a sudden you are rocketing towards the ceiling and pushing yourself off from it. Enterprising people invert themselves at that point, and go walking around up top. But, if you manage to close your eyes and somehow end up upside down, your brain will be convinced that you are right side up. You'll see people who are the other way from you. And then. Oh no. You puke.

The interesting thing about puking (or playing with any liquid) is its fascinating to watch it ooze around. Try it. Squirt some water into the air while you're floating — it's gorgeous to watch these bubbles float around. and you can poke at it. Catch them. I'ts amazing. If you have a chance also, light a match. The flame makes a perfect sphere. Things you never think you'll see.

Image: photograph of a balloon full of water exploding in zero gravity on NASA's vomit comet (the KC-135 which Raffi discusses above). Link to full-size. The experiment was part of an Imaging and Photographic Technology project between NASA and the Rochester Institute of Technology: Link

Link to previous post: Xeni Flies Zero-G, part 1