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Journey leaves her floating on air
from The Arizona Republic, January 9, 2005
Ida Farrell - Special for The Republic

Looking for the ultimate adventure?
Click to enlarge photos
Looking for the ultimate adventure?

Looking for the ultimate adventure? How about a trip into weightlessness?

Incredible Adventures in [Sarasota, Florida] offers zero-gravity parabolic flights that are out of this world.

After SpaceShipOne, a privately funded manned rocket, soared into space and back last summer and raised prospects for private spaceflights, my 50-year-old childhood dream of going to space became a possibility.

Although I consider myself an adventure traveler, I suffer from a fear of flying. Could I overcome my fear long enough to achieve this dream?

After my oldest son, Dean, researched zero-G flights, I placed a call to inquire. A couple of minutes later, I had signed up for the November flight. What was I thinking? After the papers, including a liability waiver, arrived, it was time for a reality check.

My youngest son, Stefan, the pragmatist, told me that the flights were FAA-approved and that they had been used by Tom Hanks for his weightless scenes in Apollo 13.

I mailed the papers back immediately.

Four weeks later, 27 people gathered at the Hollywood, Fla., training center, ready to become astronauts for a day.

Members of the group came from throughout the United States and from England.

Flight manager Alan Ludwig explained the aircraft's parabolic maneuvers and their possible effects on us.

"Think of it as an 8,000-foot roller coaster," he said. He advised that lying flat on your back during the maneuvers could lessen the chance of motion sickness. It worked.

Space-shuttle astronaut Rick Searfoss also gave us valuable pointers.

"Physics is your friend," he said. "It doesn't take much to move around." He suggested that we "just float and do nothing, just hang out." It turned out that was easier said than done.

Dressed in flight suits, we boarded a Boeing 727-200. As we took off, a rush of adrenaline hit me as my stress level climbed. It was time to enter the mind-over-matter zone.

The zero-gravity flights consist of three cycles. To reduce our anxiety, we were eased into weightlessness during a "Martian-G" parabola, resulting in one-third G - one-third of Earth's gravitational force and a force similar to Mars' gravity. Two of these maneuvers lasted 40 seconds each. They were followed by three "lunar-G" parabolas of one-sixth G, approximating the gravity of the moon and lasting 30 seconds each.

Approaching the first lunar parabola, I heard the one-minute warning and remembered Searfoss' words that "the sensation is the same as the astronauts experienced when they bounced around on the moon." Lying on the floor, I pictured myself on the moon. The fun and excitement generated by the group took hold, and my fears were replaced by feelings of wonder and joy. Now, it was time for the main event: weightlessness.

Ten "zero-G" parabolas lasted 25 to 30 seconds each. As I began to float, I realized that nothing could compare with this first encounter with weightlessness. Each parabola induced the most hair-raising excitement I had ever experienced. I didn't want it to stop.

All too soon, it was over. I had survived both my most scary and most exhilarating flight ever.

My legs shook as I left the plane. Mission accomplished. I had faced down my fears, had experienced unbelievable fun and fulfilled my oldest, wildest dream. More importantly, I had taken one small step toward spaceflight.

If I don't make it to the moon, maybe I can get a passport stamp from the space station.

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