Missed Microgravity Opportunity

We're all faced with difficult decisions in our lives.  Sometimes the 'right' choice may not be the best one and vice versa.   I was at such a crossroads yesterday when I had to decline paying $5000 out of pocket to go on a ZERO-G flight (I tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a lower price.).  In doing so, I let an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream slip through my fingers.

I had the honor of being invited to attend the pre-flight activities for ZERO-G's first ever flight in Honolulu.  Watching the pre-flight safety video, listening to the pre-flight briefings, observing the FAA at work, and talking with ZERO-G coaches, I learned a great deal about the process of going on a flight aboard the G-FORCE-ONE 727 aircraft.  The day was also valuable for me because it was an opportunity to speak in person with company representatives about future relations between ZERO-G and Astronauts4Hire.  The attention to detail in ZERO-G's operation really impressed me; they know what they're doing and really do provide a quality experience to their customers.  Despite the cosmic forces bringing ZERO-G right to my doorstep and my invitation to be there in the mix of the action, it just wasn't in the cards for me to fly yesterday.

This is as close as I got to a ZERO-G flight yesterday.
If participating on a ZERO-G flight was so important to me, why didn't I take the plunge and pay for it? I won't bore you with my financial situation, but suffice it to say, the crashed housing market and high cost of living in Hawaii haven't been good on my pocketbook.  If I were single I probably would have splurged on the flight anyway, but being married with a family, I have to think about them too.  Do I send my son to pre-school or go on a 2-hour ZERO-G flight?  That's the kind of dilemma I faced.  This is why space tourism will be in the realm of the wealthy for some time to come.  It's also why commercial space is so important.  We need private companies to compete and drive down the cost of entry to widen access for more people.

Floating in zero gravity has been a dream of mine for most of my life.  For example, the 1986 movie Space Camp fueled my imagination about microgravity simulators.  When my school took a field trip to the real Space Camp when I was in sixth grade, I raised my hand and asked our tour guide where the zero gravity room was where astronauts train.  I really thought it was there.  Sadly, my hopes were dashed when I was told it didn't exist and that the closest approximation they had were various types of microgravity training chairs (which were very fun nevertheless).

If you can't float in microgravity, defeating gravity by levitating is the next best thing. After seeing the 1989 movie Back to the Future Part II, I made it my mission to buy or build a hoverboard of my own.  My friend and I spent the next two years trying to find a hoverboard, but the closest we came were some schematics from an ad I found in the back of a Popular Science magazine.  We had told our teacher we were going to build one and show it to our 8th grade careers class for our aeronautical engineering presentation.  Unfortunately, the hoverboard as seen in the film turned out to be pure fiction.  However, there is hope that levitation may be possible in the near future thanks to a reversed Casimir effect, or you can settle for purchasing a mini air-driven hoverboard today.

As I type this post, 30 Hawaii teachers are making their microgravity dreams a reality as ZERO-G's G-FORCE-ONE flies them on a series of parabolas in a dedicated area of airspace above Hawaii.  Their flight is funded through the generous support of the Northrup Grumman Weightless Flights of Discovery Program, which is open to teachers only.  The program is designed to give teachers the tools and experiences they need to develop science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curricula at their schools, and to show their students that STEM education is not only entertaining, but also can lead to rewarding careers.  After all, just as I was inspired by the movies of the 80s, the kids of today can vicariously enjoy the experience of weightlessness through their teachers.  Today's flight is such a big deal that Hawaii's Governor will be personally addressing the group upon their return to gravity this afternoon. October 5 update: The teacher story made front page news in the Honolulu Star Advertiser newspaper. Check out a video of the teachers in action here:

Today also marks the 53rd anniversary of the launching of Sputnik I.  The world changed on October 4, 1957 when the Soviets launched the first artificial satellite and ushered humanity into the space age.  That's why October 4-10 is recognized as World Space Week every year.  Last year as Hawaii celebrated World Space Week, I met astronaut Yvonne Cagle when she came to my town.  As the then head of NASA's CRuSR program, Dr. Cagle was impressed with my background and invited me to attend the Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference.  Unfortunately, my MDRS mission to "Mars" overlapped with the meeting, so I couldn't attend.  However, some of my colleagues did go, and the conference provided the spark that led us to found Astronauts4Hire. If my chance meeting with Dr. Cagle hadn't happened, I may never have become interested suborbital flight, and things could have played out differently.

I've come to realize that life presents unexpected opportunities all of time.  Sometimes we take them.  Sometimes we don't.  In the end, it all works out.  While yesterday wasn't my day to experience weightlessness for the first time, I'm confident that day will come sooner rather than later.  Thank you to the folks at ZERO-G for showing me such aloha.  You're welcome back in Hawaii anytime.


Luis Saraiva said…
More opportunities will come, hopefully soon :)
Rent a Cessna and make your own 0G flight for $150.
BrianShiro said…
I helped organize an activity back in 2005 to do just that. Some of the private pilots in my ISU class took students up for an hour flight over the beautiful British Columbia landscape and coastline. Parabolas were a part of each flight. I took a video of change and other small items from my pocket floating for a few seconds. As fun as that was, you can't exactly unstrap yourself and float around the cabin of a Cessna, so it's no substitute for a ZERO-G flight.
PillowNaut said…
I feel your pain, man. I want to do this so badly, to have the experience of true weightlessness after putting myself through simulations that mimic physiological effects. Alas, I am just not willing to put 5-grand-a-whack on a credit card. SOMEDAY hopefully, it will happen for both of us! :)

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