Vomit Comet Blog: Thursday, May 4, 2006

posted by Vinaya

Wow! Talk about information overload. Today was the first day of flight training for my upcoming reduced gravity flight. And, boy howdy, was there ever a lot of information/rules/regulations/safety guidelines to process today. For the next week, we'll be starting really early. Morning briefings each morning at 7:15.

This morning's sticky humidity and the early hour, however, did nothing to deter the awe I felt when I walked into Hangar 990 on NASA's Ellington Field (pdf). There the C-9 sat, in all her splendor. Being so close to the aircraft like that was pretty amazing. As big as airplanes look in the sky, they look even bigger when you're standing next to them. It was just a tease, though...I won't be able to get on the plane until Monday. Being only feet away from it and not being able to get on board...sigh. Soon enough, though, soon enough. If you haven't already figured it out, I'm sort of a plane-buff.

After signing in, receiving my badge (everyone that comes onto NASA property must have an access badge), and trying to get as close to the plane as possible without anyone noticing, we finally got started with our morning briefing. Introductions were made. This was my favorite part of the morning. I was finally able to put faces to the names of the team members and Johnson Space Center (JSC) staff that I've been working with for months...well, more than a year, actually. It was sort of like a reunion, only we'd never met--in person--before.

NASA physicist Elizabeth Baines welcomed us to Houston and JSC. We were all excited to meet her, and listen to her tell us what she's working on for NASA. Currently, she's researching the shuttle tiles that have been in the news lately. Very cool stuff.



The C-9B (What we’re flying on) "hangared" for maintenance. The wing edges are checked for stress fractures every 12,000 parabolas. We will make 30-40 parabolas per flight.

After Dr. Baines's short--and warm--welcome, we jumped right into our safety briefing. SAFETY, SAFETY, SAFETY. That will be my mantra while I'm at Ellington Field. They couldn't mention that word often enough. Everything--and they mean EVERYTHING--that is taken into the hangar must be accounted for. Since it's an active hangar, flight personnel are worried about things getting sucked into the engines. There's a very real possibility that something as small as a little bolt could ruin the engine. If it could happen, they talked about it: Sparks igniting fuel fumes, lost equipment, everything you could imagine. Now, don't get me wrong, they weren't trying to scare us. If they told us about something, it was because someone's actually done it. There was usually a story to back it up. A Hall of Shame, as it were.

Our morning briefing (which was longer today than it normally will be because of the information that they needed to give us), was followed by two afternoon briefings. The first briefing was really more of a question and answer period for first time flyers. I learned a lot about what to expect on the flight.

Should I eat breakfast? YES (Doesn't matter if your stomach is empty. It will FIND something to throw up.)

Is there a bathroom on board the plane? YES (Although it's working now, for a while when it wasn't working, there was only a bucket. I didn't even want to ask how that worked out. Apparently, though, even though there's a working bathroom on board, it takes a great amount of concentration to aim. YIKES!)

Does the plane have windows? YES (But they recommended that we not look out of the windows until later in the flight, giving our eyes and bodies a chance to adjust to the new sensations.)

Our second briefing of the afternoon was all about the photos and videos that they plan to take on-board. I can take my own camera on board the plane, but they say that looking through the viewfinder will make us sicker. Two video cameramen on-board will video tape the experiments, and possibly lots of throwing up. I'll have links to the pictures as soon as I can.

Teams also got a chance to begin setting up their experiments today. Of course, I was very helpful...someone had to take pictures.

I think that's all for today. I'm gonna go read all my paperwork now and concentrate on SAFETY.

Tomorrow: Physiological Training.

Time until my flight: T-minus 5 days, 15 hours and 16 minutes...and counting.

Our flight journalists, Wendy and David Levy (David Levy of Shoemaker-Levy Comet fame) are flanked, on the left, by John Yaneic, Lead C-9 test director, and on the right, NASA pilot, Triple Nickel.

Our flight journalists, Wendy and David Levy (David Levy of Shoemaker-Levy Comet fame) are flanked, on the left, by John Yaneic, Lead C-9 test director, and on the right, NASA pilot, Triple Nickel.