This was a picture I took when I had the incredible opportunity to fly on a zero gravity flight out of Ellington Field near Houston, Texas. I did not tilt the camera at all to take this picture. I held it up to my face and snapped exactly what I was looking at. I apologize that it is slightly blurry, but taking a picture while you are floating near the ceiling of an airplane is a lot harder than it sounds.
NASA has zero-g planes that it uses for astronaut training and microgravity research. One famous plane, called “the Vomit Comet”, was used to film the weightless scenes of the movie Apollo 13. This particular plane is smaller than the Vomit Comet but still is deserving of the name. It flies in parabolas- math term for big hills- so that the plane goes up over the top of a hill, crests the top, and on the way down you get a good 30 seconds of weightlessness. Then you reach the bottom, pull up, and do another one, and repeat. Depending on the angle of the parabola, you can mimic zero gravity, lunar gravity, and even Martian gravity.
In the far end of the cabin, you can see a display that shows how much g’s the plane is flying at. (As you sit in your chair, you are feeling 1 “gee” or “g” of gravity; you feel less than a g when you drive over a hill and feel your stomach do a little back flip.) The people in green suits are students who had the opportunity to bring an experiment on board the aircraft and test it in microgravity. The blue suits are the flight crew who make sure the instruments are secured safely, that all of the flyers are feeling well, etc. Oh, and the blue suited woman on the right side of the cabin with her back facing the camera is astronaut Nicole Stott. It was awesome getting to fly with her.
Numerous people have asked me what it feels like to be weightless. It’s like going over the top of a roller coaster, or a big bump on the road, when you have that moment where you feel your whole body starting to lift out of your seat. It starts like that, but then it keeps going. There was a short bob, and then you quickly drifted toward the ceiling; then you had about 30 seconds of weightlessness before someone shouted “Feet down!” so you could orient yourself with your feet towards the floor. Then, another small bob, and then you came down to the bottom of the plane. With the gentle “bobbing” as I call it, you had about a second in transition between weightless and weight-full; it was not instantaneous. And when you are weightless… most amazing feeling ever. Sounds obvious, but no part of your body weighs anything. Your arms don’t even feel heavy. My camera floated in front of my face, and I poked it and spun it effortlessly with one finger. I can only imagine what it would be like to feel that way all the time. It would be wonderful.