25 October 2005
Events - Vehicles (Good)
Zero-G Corporation Lifts Off
Military facility to be used by civilians
by G B Leatherwood
by G.B. Leatherwood

The next Zero-G Corporation flights will take place on November 5 and 6, 2005. The “Zero-G experience” will take place at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF). Used for shuttle landings, and by astronauts and NASA personnel, this facility has never before made available for civilian use.

The pricetag of US$4500 includes such assorted goodies as preflight training, the flight itself, meeting and flying with three real astronauts, lunch, a flight suit, a DVD/VCR recording of the flight, and a post-flight cocktail reception.

The flight takes approximately 2 hours in a specially modified Boeing 727-200. During the FAA certification process, Zero-G conducted more than 1,000 parabola flights for certification and safety demonstrations. In addition, in partnership with Warner Brothers Studios, the company performed 200 parabolas during six flights to conduct special effects filming for the Matrix 2 and Matrix 3 movies.

For those not familiar with the experience, the aircraft, dubbed “G-Force One,” takes off from the SLF, climbs and begins a series of fifteen parabolic “hops.” Each “hop” simulates first two Mars gravity (1/3 Earth), then three lunar gravity (1/6 Earth), and what everyone on board has been waiting for, 10 weightless hops. Promotional video on the web site shows participants tumbling, climbing the walls (literally!), releasing and swallowing blobs of water, and activities that can only be performed without the pull of gravity.

These flights are significant simply because they are a very real and very affordable first step in a public space tourism industry. Prior to the formation of ZeroG, the only way anyone except professional astronauts, scientists, engineers, and specialists could get this experience was by traveling to the USSR—expensive, inconvenient, and perceived to be risky. It took Peter Diamandis, President and CEO of Zero Gravity Corporation and former shuttle astronaut Dr. Byron K. Lichtenberg eight years to navigate the thickets of regulations that have been growing since the birth of aviation, when barnstormers traveled the country offering rides on their “new-fangled flying machines” and giving daredevil thrills like wingwalking, loop-the-loops, and such.

But Daimandis and Lichtenberg persevered. As Joe Latrell, President and CEO of Beyond-Earth Enterprises, a fledgling commercial space development company said, “The FAA is easy to deal with. You just ask them what they want and give it to them. I’d rather spend my time bending metal than arguing with suits.”

It was predicted that thousands of people would sign up for this low-cost experience as a prelude to actual suborbital and orbital tourist flights, and 1500 people have signed up the first year. Unfortunately, the Zero-G Corporation was unable to maintain their initial price point of $2950.

People who have partaken in the experience include Scaled Composites CEO Burt Rutan, designer and builder of the Ansari X-Prize-winning spacecraft SpaceShipOne, moon-walking astronaut Buzz Aldrin, National Space Society Executive Director George Whitesides, media reporters, political figures, many, many “just plain folks,” and one 15-year-old, the youngest allowed by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules for “acrobatic flight.”

Seats are currently available.
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G B Leatherwood 25 October 2005
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