Astronauts from 8 to 90
Anyone can take part in this experience, as long as they have 5,000 dollars, which is the average price of a parabolic flight. Crew members can age from 8 to over 90 years old. They are normally celebrities, adventurers and, particularly, scientists wanting to experience one of the most astonishing physical phenomena.
He needed no explanation to understand the workings of a suborbital parabolic flight, the only way to experience zero gravity without leaving Earth’s atmosphere. It takes place on-board commercial planes, which, following a complex manoeuvre, manage to make their passengers float, as if they were in a rocket. In short: the plane ascends to 7,300 m and the pilot raises its nose to 45°, with the engine at full power. On reaching 10,000 m, the pilot pulls the nose down, and commences a parabolic fall. Newton’s apple, but with a jet engine. The engines continue driving forwards and the plane accelerates to such a speed that it compensates for the gravity of our planet, reducing it to zero. And suddenly, there is complete weightlessness, for several, unforgettable seconds. How many exactly? It depends on the company. The North American company ZERO-G offers zero gravity that lasts 30 seconds; Air Zero G, a joint project between Novespace and Avico, and Russian company Starcity Tours average 22 seconds. Not long enough? No need to worry, the plane repeats the manoeuvre 10 to 15 times.
The gravity-free experience lasts about five minutes, but this time is more relative than any other. The experience is so intense that these seconds stretch out like chewing gum. We lose our bearings, confuse up and down, and it is almost impossible to control our movements. This is why, the first time, almost everyone behaves as if they were in water. They swim breaststroke or kick, as if suddenly being abducted. “Every movement, even the simplest of them, has to be reinvented,” says astronaut Jean-François Clervoy, chair of Novespace, with more than 3,000 parabolic flights behind him.