I’ve been obsessed with all things Space-related since for as long as I can remember, playing with Space-themed Lego for hours and hours in my younger years. And now, many years later, the interest hasn’t waned and I still find it all incredibly awe-inspiring. Rarely do i miss any TV coverage of new launches, whether un-manned launches from the USA or Europe, or the manned launches from Russia
I realised fairly early on in my teens that a combination of below standard vision, an average grasp of mathematics and the coordination of a 6-legged donkey was not what NASA or ESA were looking for in their astronauts so that route to space was definitely out! Ever since then I’ve kept a look out for any organisations or companies who offered the general public a chance to experience zero gravity at a cost that wasn’t too prohibitive. My winning lottery ticket is yet to transpire so no Virgin Galactic flight for me anytime soon unless anyone’s feeling generous to the tune of around £200,000!
I started researching options online to see if there were any options and initially found a company based in the USA called GoZeroG.com who fly their aircraft around various US cities each calendar year and offer paying members of the public the chance to experience zero gravity on one of their flights. The website looked great, lots of information and videos to view, their availability date-wise was fine and the cost of $5000 was within my budget. The issue was the location. Living in the United Kingdom, I would have had to get a flight across the Atlantic before I’d even connected to the nearest city where the flights were operating, an additional expense I could do without I thought. So, it made sense to keep looking closer to home so the search continued…..
Thankfully, not too soon after finding GoZeroG, I found a company in France based in Bordeaux called AirZero-G who have been offering a few flights each year to the paying public since 2014. These public flights, operated by Novespace, help finance the other flights flown throughout the year for scientific research experiments etc. More detail on these these flights can be found on their website. Now I’d finally found someone offering what I was looking for, the next step was signing up!
Once I’d read their website in detail, I applied online and was soon emailed by a lovely lady who sent me further information regarding deadlines for payments, medical forms required, hotel options and a detailed itinerary of the the day itself. Once I’d paid the deposit, the next essential thing to do was get my medical forms signed by my local family doctor. Essentially the forms ask the doctor to sign agreeing that there are no underlying medical conditions that would make such a flight dangerous to the person or fellow passengers and crew. Crucially, they also require an ECG dated within 1 year of the planned flight. I got both arranged quickly, sent the forms and ECG results back to Air Zero-G via email and received confirmation that my place was not confirmed pending final balance payment due one month before the flight date of June 16th, 2015.
I flow out the day before the experience from my local airport in Newcastle heading for Bordeaux-Merignac airport where Novespace operated their flights from. A short taxi on arrival took me to the local Novotel hotel just outside the airport itself where all my fellow zero gravity passengers were booked in! A lovely clean, friendly, budget hotel, ideal for the two nights I’d be staying.
The Air Zero-G team collected us all from the hotel the morning for the short 15 minute coach journey to the Novaspace site on the outskirts of the airport, across from the main domestic terminal. We were welcomed by none other than ESA astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy, a veteran of three Space Shuttle missions no less! Shaking his hand to me felt very special as I can’t recall many occasions where I’ve met with someone who has left our planet before!
After some paperwork, further briefings and into our flight suits (you get to keep them as a souvenir!) we were led towards the Airbus A310 that would be hosting our experience! We were sat in normal airline-type seats at the back (the rest being emptied out for storing science equipment or (for our tourist flight) four “experience” areas, each the same but for safety and language support purposes, split into four, supporting ten paying passengers in each.
We were soon in the air heading to the allocated area they have assigned for these type of operations which took only 20 minutes. The Air Zero-G website will give you the technical details on how zero gravity is achieved but these flights are rather different to your average city hopper!
Once we were in our allocated area, a voice from the cockpit and several support staff in the cabin asked us to move from our seats to one of the four sections ready for the fun stuff to start! Initially we were asked to lie flat on our backs prior to the first parabola which gave us the experience of what the gravity is like on Mars, followed by another showing what Martian gravity is like!
In both cases during the 60 second weightless period, it was possible to stand up, and effectively walk with a bounce, just like Neil Armstrong did back in 1969 on the Moon! A very bizarre feeling indeed! I could also feel the blood filling my face more than normal which is typical as there’s no gravity keeping it lower down! Some people felt a little unwell but most were fine.
Next we moved onto the zero gravity parabolas…. we heard the countdown from the cockpit, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” then “Injection” and were weightless! Simply applying a slight press of the fingers on the cabin surfaces had your body moving in the other direction, only stopping when you took hold of something (or someone!). Reaching a cabin wall surface and not moving again took some skill because if you pressed too hard you’d bounce off and be moving away from it again so very gentle movements were the order of the day.
It took a few goes to get the hang of it (the astronaut crews make somersaults look easy when it’s actually quite hard to do!) but after a few parabolas most were able to “float” around our section rather well! At the end of each 60 second weightless period, gravity returned quickly. For safety we were given a verbal countdown from the cockpit again so we didn’t suddenly fall from the top of the cabin upside down without warning!
The overall flight lasted approximately 90 minutes with the parabolas that gave is the zero gravity experience 60 minutes in total split into 15 parabolas with a couple of minutes between each one. By the time we completed the last one, many were wanting to try more but it wasn’t to be and we headed back to the airport to be met by a glass of champagne and a baseball style cap to go with our “space suits”.
After a wonderful (and very welcome!) buffet lunch, we were treated to a very informative presentation from Jean-Francois Clervoy with a very generous Q & A session afterwards… I didn’t miss the chance to ask an astronaut all manner of questions, as did many others!
We received our certificates confirming our attendance and USB key with all the photographs taken by the support staff and the videos from all the GoPro cameras that were literally EVERYWHERE in the cabin would be posted to us at a later date once they’d all been collected from the cameras and loaded onto USB keys.
Overall, an incredibly special experience and would recommend it to anyone! If anyone has any questions about it, don’t hesitate to comment below!
UPDATE: I’m going back to do it all again in June 2017 and will aim to capture more photos and videos the of the experience to share with you all.