Zero gravity is the phenomenon in which no force of gravity acts on the body, creating a sense of weightlessness. Most commonly associated with astronauts in orbit, almost anyone can now experience zero gravity through parabolic flights.
Parabolic flights are a way to simulate zero gravity without going to space. They’re used to examine the effects of weightlessness on people and other organisms, including dogs, cats, and monkeys.
This guide will cover many of the questions associated with zero gravity, including its benefits, history, how it works and how you can be prepared for your zero gravity trip.
What Are The Benefits of Zero Gravity?
Recreational Benefits – Zero gravity flights are a great way to experience space tourism without the rigorous training required for professional astronauts. It can be completed by most people and is a fun, safe new activity that few people have ever experienced.
On board, you’ll have the opportunity to glide through the airplane, make different poses and capture that perfect photo to show your friends and family. Zero gravity experiences are also expected to grow aggressively in the coming years, so you can tell people you were one of the first to experience a commercial zero-gravity flight!
Science Benefits – As well as being a fun experience, zero gravity is fantastic for research purposes. Zero gravity environments are often used to test new equipment, discover the effects of zero gravity on the human body, and conduct experiments that bring functional utility back to us on Earth.
When Did Zero Gravity Early Experiments Begin?
Scientists worldwide began testing zero gravity in the 1950s; by the 1960s, zero gravity facilities were built throughout the US to support the research and development of space flights.
These facilities were primarily used to assess how astronauts would react to space travel and test new equipment, such as flight components and fluid systems, without needing to go to space.
Parabolic flights were commonly used to analyze the effects of zero gravity on living organisms, including humans, pigeons, dogs, and cats.
When Were The First Recreational Zero Gravity Experiences?
Following the Cold War, zero gravity and recreational space-related experiences remained exclusive to astronauts and experts until 2001, when American businessman Dennis Tito paid over $20 million to fly into space.
Tito started his trip with a Russian company called MirCorp. However, he eventually traveled to the ISS with a U.S. company called Space Adventures Ltd after the Mir space station deorbited. Tito spent eight days in space aboard the ISS, where he orbited the Earth 128 times.
Tito is considered the first-ever space tourist. However, he often describes himself as a “spaceflight participant” as he was required to complete a strenuous training program before going to space.
Today, the technology to simulate a zero gravity environment and send people to space has greatly improved, while the costs for an entry-level experience have drastically decreased.
How Does Zero Gravity Work?
Zero gravity experiences utilize what’s known as a parabolic flight path to create the sensation of weightlessness. During the flight, specially-trained pilots perform a series of aerobatic maneuvers called parabolas.
The process starts with the aircraft flying level with the horizon at an altitude of 24,000 feet. The pilots then gradually increase the angle of the aircraft to about 45° relative to the horizon until reaching an altitude of 32,000 feet. During this phase, passengers feel the pull of 1.8x times the force of gravity.
Next, the plane pushes over the top of the parabolic arc which causes all occupants and objects to float. For the next 20-30 seconds, everything in the plane is weightless. Finally, the plane gently pulls out of the maneuver, allowing flyers to gradually return to the floor of the aircraft.
What’s the Physics Behind Zero Gravity Flights?
During a zero-gravity flight, the aircraft engine’s thrust (the force which moves an aircraft through the air) equals the drag force (force pulling the plane backward), and the lift is removed.
By canceling out other forces, weight is the only factor impacting the plane, causing unpowered objects to fly in the air.
This usually occurs around 7,700 meters (approximately 25,000 feet) in the air, when the aircraft engines will be shut off after reaching 500 miles per hour. To put things into perspective, a commercial flight flies at around 30,000 feet.
Once the engines are off, anything not strapped down inside will naturally rise until the end of the parabola.
So, companies like Zero Gravity utilize customized Boeing 727s with most of the seats removed, where passengers can safely float around for a total of seven to eight minutes.
How Do Parabolic Flights Create Zero Gravity
Parabolic flights create zero gravity environments by using upwards and downward arcs. Each arc creates around 22 seconds of weightlessness, and the maneuver is repeated around 15 times to reproduce a total of 7-8 minutes of weightlessness, similar to that experienced in space.
Here’s how the maneuver works.
The flight is broken down into three stages:
- The parabola pull-up
- The parabola
- The parabola pull-out
- The Parabola Pull Up (“On The Pull”)
During the first stage of the parabola, the pilot will lift the nose of the airplane upwards at a 45-degree angle. This stage lasts around 20 seconds and gives passengers an experience of hypergravity, in which gravity is 1.8 times stronger than the gravity on Earth.
- Parabola (“Pushing Over”)
“Pushing over” the parabola is the second stage of the maneuver. As the aircraft moves upwards, the pilot will reduce speed and naturally follow a ballistic trajectory. This is when the sensation of weightlessness begins.
- The Parabola Pull-out (“Coming Out”)
During the third and final phase, the nose of the plane is tilted 30 degrees downwards. The aircraft is then gradually leveled as engine speed is increased. Once again, passengers will experience hypergravity; after around 20 seconds, the aircraft will return to a horizontal trajectory.
As well as creating a weightless environment, parabolas can also be used to simulate a range of different environments. They’re used to simulate lunar gravity (0.16g of Earth’s gravity) and martian gravity (0.38g)* and can be adjusted for anything between 0 and 1g on Earth.
How Can You Prepare for Zero Gravity?
Astronaut programs are known for their strict training regimes. So, what do you need to do to prepare for zero gravity?
You’ll be happy to know you don’t need to be an Olympic athlete or in your fitness prime to fly in zero gravity. William Shatner flew on a zero-gravity flight at the age of 90!
What Clothing and Gear Can I Have?
You can only bring non-hazardous items onto your flight. These must be small enough to fit in the pockets of your flight suit and can include a small, soft toy, photos of family and other meaningful items. You can also bring a camera or smartphone with a strap to prevent them from floating away in the aircraft.
If you need to bring larger items onboard, please contact the company you’re flying with directly beforehand to discuss further. On flight day, wear comfortable clothes before your flight. Upon arrival, you’ll be provided a flightsuit based on fit.
Experiencing Zero Gravity
Being in zero gravity for the first time is a truly unique experience. It can be compared to scuba diving in some ways, but it’s generally unlike anything on Earth, as motions feel relatively effortless to the movement they generate.
A small push can send you gliding forwards, while a big push will send you gliding around like an out-of-control ping pong ball. Slow and steady does the trick!
Part of the experience is a bit of confusion– your body wants to tell you that you’re falling, causing you to reach out and look for something to catch. This is entirely normal; if this happens, you must remind yourself that you’re already in control!
What Does a Zero Gravity Flight with Zero-G Entail?
Most initial parts of the Zero-G experience are similar to taking a flight on commercial aircraft. After the appropriate back-office items like checking identification, changing into flight suits, passing through security, and a Q&A session, the boarding process begins.
You’ll be escorted to your aircraft, and pictures will be taken prior to boarding. You’ll then be seated and an onboard safety demonstration will be given by flight attendants, who will ensure passengers are secure.
After takeoff it can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes to reach the designated air space where parabolas can be performed safely. After reaching cruising altitude, your coach will escort you to your designated floating area, where the weightless section of your flight will begin.
In total, 15 parabolas will be flown, resulting in seven to eight minutes of weightlessness, after which the plane will return to the same airport from which you departed
What are Zero Gravity Flights Used For Today?
Zero gravity flights are utilized today for a variety of goals.
Research: Zero gravity flights can be used for research programs where researchers can collect medical and physical data and test hardware and other equipment. For example, Zero-G is often used within a research grant and university program context.
Photography: Zero gravity flights are also popular media productions, allowing photographers to shoot that perfect picture in zero gravity. However, be advised that shooting footage or taking pictures in zero gravity is an entirely new challenge and requires special training.
Celebration: One of the most unique options offered by Zero-G is weightless weddings. Instead of going down the traditional wedding route, you can have your wedding in zero gravity, 32,000 feet in the air.
After Zero Gravity
After a zero-gravity flight, being back on Earth may feel a little strange– but not as strange as it feels for astronauts who spend weeks to months in space rather than a few minutes.
Gravity might feel stronger on your body for a few hours, though this will subside after a few hours.
After a short-term flight you don’t need to do anything out of the ordinary to recover. As you’re only in zero gravity for a short period, your body should completely adjust to Earth’s gravity within hours. During this brief time, your balance may feel a little off. However, there are no long-term impacts.
Tips for Adapting
The sensation of weightlessness is impossible to replicate on Earth, so you must adapt on the fly.
One of the most common mistakes guests make is pushing from walls with too much force, finding themselves moving quicker than expected in the opposite direction. In zero gravity, you want to take things slow. A slow push will take you much further than you think without losing control. The more control you have, the more likely you’ll quickly adapt to changes in gravity.
Another tip is to keep your items in your pocket. We want to put objects down in areas where we can easily find them; this doesn’t work in zero gravity. If you let go of something, it’ll fly!
Where Can I Experience Zero-Gravity?
Zero-G offers flights in eight different airports throughout the US:
- Kennedy Space Center, FL – Launch and Landing Facility (LLF)
- Las Vegas, NV– McCarran International Airport (LAS)
- Oakland, CA – Oakland International Airport (OAK)
- Miami, FL – Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport (OPF)
- Seattle, WA – King County International Airport – Boeing Field (BFI)
- Austin, TX – Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)
- Long Beach, CA – Long Beach Airport (LGB)
- Newark, NJ – Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
- Houston, TX – Ellington Field (EFD)
Zero gravity flights are no longer just for government agencies like NASA. With technology developing exponentially, zero gravity flights have quickly become a safe and exciting experience for people without requiring months of rigorous training
Although the flight may seem like a daunting experience, it’s an opportunity to create lifelong memories and a real sense of achievement. Only a fraction of humanity has ever experienced zero gravity, but it’s time to change that.