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Zero Gravity: What It's Like

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The "Zero-G" Experience: A Nerdy Retrospective
by John Grasberger, San Diego, CA

I signed up for the "Zero-G" experience for just that - to feel what it's like to escape the bonds of gravity and become as weightless as astronauts in space. I was not disappointed - the no-gravity experience was incredibly fun and exhilarating! Sucking globules of water out of thin air is a rush beyond description. Yet, in retrospect, I find myself dwelling more on the "Lunar G" experience, where we felt only 1/6 the gravity of earth.

The popular description of gravity outside our home planet is that it causes you to "weigh" less or more than you do here. So, they say, a 180-pound man would weigh a mere 30 pounds on the moon. That's true; but now I realize it's only part of the story and tends to be unexpectedly misleading.

Before flying the lunar-G parabolas, I imagined that being on the moon would feel the same as if I weighed only 30 pounds here on earth. Muscles toned to support my 180-pound body would suddenly have only 1/6 of that weight to carry around. So, just as I can toss a light baseball much farther than a heavy bowling ball, I would be able to propel my "new" body to great heights on earth in the same way we saw the astronauts do on the moon.

But now I realize that this view is distorted.

Gravity on earth accelerates a body at the rate of 32 feet per second per second. And this is true, as Isaac Newton first realized, no matter whether that body is a feather or an anvil - absent air resistance, both will fall to earth at the same rate. This means that after only two seconds of free-fall, you hit the ground at the speed of 64 feet per second, or 43.6 miles per hour. Even if you weighed only 30 pounds, impacting the earth's surface at almost 44 mph would hurt - and likely be fatal.

But things are different on the moon. There, the acceleration due to gravity is only about 5.3 feet per second per second. So after two seconds of free-fall on the moon, your impact speed would be only 11.6 feet per second, or 7.9 mph. That's pretty easy to take. Vertical movements on the moon (such as the astronauts jumping) seem to be in slow motion because they are in slow motion! And that's exactly what I felt during the lunar parabolas of the Zero-G experience. After pushing myself up from the floor of the plane, I descended back down to the floor at an amazingly-gentle rate. What a feeling!

Oh, sure, I have known this on an intellectual basis for many years, but I did not really comprehend it until I actually felt it. So, in the end, although being weightless was certainly fun and exhilarating, the lunar experience was even more - it was eye-opening. My "ah-ha!" reaction was one I never anticipated, and it added immeasurably to the richness of the experience.

My advice, then, to those contemplating the Zero-G experience? By all means, go for the fun and excitement of weightlessness, but pay attention to the micro-gravity on the moon. It's quite a surprise!

Copyright John Grasberger 2005. Published with permission.

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