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From the Sunrise Edition - Omaha World-Herald
Omaha, Nebraska, Friday, October 10, 1997

Vacationers Walking on Air

Diana Turner has followed her fiance, Chad Schnuelle, up mountains and giant rocks, and off bridges tied to bungee cords, but she drew the line at zero gravity.

"He does this to me all the time," she sighed while flipping through pictures of the Omaha couple's latest adventure - a weeklong trip to Moscow in August to tour the Russian space program.

The couple visited formerly super-secret military bases, and Chad got to fly a Russian jet and ride on a zero-gravity flight with cosmonauts training for the Mir space station.

Chad, a 30-year-old broker, has always been interested in airplanes and space travel. He first heard of the Russian trips on a Discovery Channel program, then went looking for a travel agency on the Internet.

That's where he found Incredible Adventures, a Sarasota, Fla., company that caters to people with a taste for extreme vacations.

At first, he was interested mainly in flying a jet, but he couldn't refuse a chance to be weightless.

For $5,000, Chad was able to ride on a Russian cargo jet used to train cosmonauts for the zero-gravity conditions of space. In fact, while he and other tourists floated in one part of the plane, cosmonauts practiced space procedures in the other.

"The Neatest Guy"

To their surprise and delight, astronaut David Wolf was on board.

Wolf is the latest American to work aboard the Mir space station. He joined the crew Sept. 28 and is scheduled to return to Earth in late January.

In the States, Americans rarely meet astronauts, let alone see them in action. But Wolf and the others from NASA were excited to meet and talk to the Omaha couple.

"He said, 'I haven't seen any Americans all winter,'" said Diana, 33, a marketing coordinator at Mutual of Omaha.

"He is just a doll. Green, bedroom eyes, as sweet as can be, single, a doctor, and an engineer - just the neatest guy."

The zero-gravity ride itself was, well, incredible, Chad said.

"It's kind of like when you just go over a hill in a car, and you get butterflies in your stomach. Then the butterflies go away, and you're weightless."

A videographer captured the trip on tape, so everyone back home can watch Chad floating around the plane, bouncing off the walls, spinning and diving.

"I was just having a ball," he said, watching himself.

"I thought you were getting sick," Diana said.

"Well, there was just too much excitement to worry about it."

"You should have seen him when he climbed out of the plane. He was clammy."

But there's no shame in nausea, she said. "David Wolf says astronauts throw up all the time."

That afternoon, the couple toured mission control, where they watched a conversation with Mir cosmonauts.

"You would think this would be the most posh atmosphere," Diana said, "but it's not."

Everything was a little old, a little dusty, a little run-down.

These days, the Russian space program is broke, said Jane Reifert, president of Incredible Adventures. That's why the government allows tourists such amazing access.

"When it was the Soviet Union," she said, "there was government funding for everything, but now there isn't. So they need the money."

Chad, who hopes to eventually get his pilot's license, also flew a jet used to train Russian pilots. The pilot who accompanied him let Chad take the jet through some rolls and loops.

The whole trip cost about $13,000, but Chad said he would do it again in a heartbeat.

"I'd like to get Diana up in zero-gravity," he said.

Would she go?

"If I had $5,000 I wanted to throw away. That's 97 pairs of shoes, 82 outfits…"

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