Vomit Comet Blog: Wednesday, May 10, 2006

posted by Vinaya

I’m getting ready to take my anti-nausea meds

I’m getting ready to take my anti-nausea meds

Amazing! The only word to describe my flight is amazing. Well, I guess you could use exciting, awesome and very cool, also. I can't wait to tell you about it, so here goes:

After a hearty breakfast of pancakes and bananas, we headed out to Ellington Field. (Veteran flyers agree that pancakes and bananas taste the same going in and coming out, so they recommend that breakfast choice on a flight day. Then the 20 minutes drive to Ellington. I hadn't been nervous about the flight until this morning. Pensive may be a better word. All the training and warnings and advice were just swimming around in my brain. I just hoped I'd remember it when I needed it most.

The plane was still in the hangar when I arrived. It hasn't gotten old, yet...walking into the huge hangar (*our* hangar for the past week) and seeing the C-9 and other aircraft that are housed there. (They would move the plane during our briefings.) Our briefing started exactly on time. There was some concern over thunderstorms in the Gulf of Mexico. But it looked like they were moving rapidly away from our flight area. (NASA has restricted flight space in the Gulf, so they don't have to worry about freaking out passengers on commercial carriers. Planes just aren't supposed to fly that way, and they don't want commercial pilots getting any ideas.) Anyway, satisfied that the weather wouldn't be an issue, the flight crew made te decision to fly.

 Me and the plane shortly before takeoff

Me and the plane shortly before takeoff

 On board and ready to go, two members of the Beaumont Team.

On board and ready to go, two members of the Beaumont Team.

 The Glenbrook Team relaxes before take-off.

The Glenbrook Team relaxes before take-off.

 My seat-mates, the Roosevelt Team.

My seat-mates, the Roosevelt Team.

8:15 a.m.: Medical briefing with flight surgeon Dr. Strauss. A very nice man, who's worked about 120 flights. This is when he administered the anti-nausea medication. It was pretty strong. It causes a little dizziness and dry mouth. I experienced both. The dizziness was fleeting. I was fine once we took off. The dry mouth, however, is harder to get rid of. I've been drinking water like crazy today to counteract that.

8:45 a.m. Pre-flight meeting with pilots, test directors and the photo/videography people. This is where the teachers explained what they need: a few extra minutes for a turn to re-setup the experiment and make adjustments; exactly which parabolas they wanted video taped; did the teachers need a mic, etc.

9:00 a.m. We board the plane from the tail cone. We sat down in the back of the plane, buckled up our seat belts and waited for the pilots and other crew to finish their pre-flight checklists.

9:30 a.m. Wheels up or take-off. Just like on a commercial flight the crew explained the emergency exits, the location of lavatory, etc., before we took off. It took about 20 minutes get out to NASA's restricted airspace of the Gulf. About 10 minutes into the flight, the crew invited everyone to go to the front of the cabin to "man" their experiments. Since I didn't have an experiment of my own, I took pictures of the experiments on board and lent a hand whenever necessary. Otherwise, I was free to somersault in the cabin.

At almost exactly 20 minutes into flight, we began the parabolas. (42 in all. Four sets of 10 to simulate weightlessness, plus one parabola to simulate Martial gravity and one to simulate Lunar gravity.) I expected it to be sort of like a roller-coaster. It SO wasn't. It was really rather gentle. The test crew called out that we were going into the heavy G portion of the flight (about 2 'G's.) followed by "over the top" when we experienced weightlessness. It just sort of happened. We were all sitting on the floor of the plane and then we weren't. Flight crew recommends that everyone take it easy during the first two parabolas to get used to the feeling. That really helped. Things really do float around like we've seen in pictures from space. Even hair!

In this next picture, you can see test director Sandy Sloan. He's the guy on the headset with the pilots instructing us when we were going into Zero G and when we were coming out of it. "Feet down! Coming out" is the call he made when we came out of weightlessness. "Over the top!" is the call when we begin Zero G. Over Sandy's head, you can see the parabola counter on the left and the G force monitor, which shows how many G forces are being exerted on the plane.

It's the strangest feeling in the world. You feel kind of like you're swimming, but there's nothing to push against. We did end up bouncing around the cabin a lot. At one time, I was plastered against the ceiling of the plane during Zero G. I didn't have time to get down as we were coming out. So test director Dominic Del Rosso, just gave my foot a little yank and I was down on the floor. Dominic is one of the flight crew who make sure that everyone's safe and doing what they're supposed to be doing at the right time.

Even though our flight lasted for two hours and we did 42 parabolas, it felt like it was only a few minutes. I'm very lucky to have been able to experience this. I will never forget it. Much before I was ready for it to end, we were all instructed to get back in our seats for landing.

Doing somersaults in Zero-G.

Doing somersaults in Zero-G.

Crazy hair in Zero-G.

Crazy hair in Zero-G.

Test Director Sandy Sloan. Behind him, you can see the parabola counter (left display) and the G-forces monitor (on the right).

Test Director Sandy Sloan. Behind him, you can see the parabola counter (left display) and the G-forces monitor (on the right).

Oh yeah, I bet y'all are probably wondering if I got sick. The answer is no. I didn't vomit at all during the flight. (I was a little queasy afterward, but nothing major.) Sadly, though, we didn't have a "Zero Kill" flight. If you remember from yesterday, a "kill" is anyone who vomits during flight (The don't call it the Vomit Comet for nothing.) We had one person who got sick a couple of times. But she threw up and went right back to work. (Good for her!) One kill isn't bad. I'll take that any day. So I didn't need the "two bags" I brought along with me. I should have bet someone...oh well.

Test Director Dominic Del Rosso

Test Director Dominic Del Rosso

Piddle Packs

Piddle Packs

Commemorating the World Year of Physics 2005.

Commemorating the World Year of Physics 2005.

Also, in addition to the lavatory on board, the crew provides flyers with a "piddle pack." It's basically a large zip-lock bag with gel forming particles in the bottom. Simply aim and shoot. The liquid, after reacting with the particles, becomes a gel and safer for a Zero G flight. If one really had to go, they could use the lavatory, but we would have to level off the plane. The piddle packs are just easier.

Before we sat down for landing, I had the opportunity to show off my WYP2005 t-shirt. I figured, since the flight was originally part of the World Year of Physics, I could at least wear my shirt on the flight. So here I am, commemorating WYP.

Actually, truth be told, the roughest part of the flight was descent. We had to fly through some pretty heavy clouds and it was a little bumpy. But other than that, a great experience. Afterward, we posed for a group flight shot outside the plane.

Honestly, I'm ready to go back again. I'll have to see if I can stowaway on tomorrow's flight. Shhhh...don't tell. It'll be our little secret.

Tomorrow, the first flyers from the second set of teams fly. (Group A unloaded, while Group B uploaded this afternoon and it was 95 degrees outside.) Following their flight, we're getting a private tour of Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center. I'm really looking forward to that. It is on the National Historic Sites registry, after all. More tomorrow, folks. If I'm planning on stowing away, I'll need my rest.

Time until STOWAWAY flight: T-minus 10 hours, 29 minutes...and counting.

Our after flight picture with the crew and researchers.

Our after flight picture with the crew and researchers.