Monday, September 03, 2007

How I Lost 160 Pounds

Yesterday I was free of Earth's gravity for 8 full minutes aboard G-Force 1, the airline of X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis that induces weightlessness through parabolic flight. Parabolic flights have been used for decades to train astronauts (and shoot film scenes like in Apollo 13), and G-Force has recently completed its 100th flight (an important milestone for me as I assessed the risk of this adventure).,0.jpg
Esther Dyson, an active supporter of commercial space filght and an investor in the business, had recruited Second Life founder Phil Rosedale and VC Chris Hadsell to try out this experience, and Chris in turn recruited me. I figured that if Stephen Hawking could do it, so can I. Still, I was quite anxious leading up to the flight, certain that I would spark a puke fest on board--but a single dose of scopalamine completely warded off the nausea. (Warning: scopalamine is also a truth serum, so never operate a blog while medicated!)

G-Force 1 is a hollowed out 727-200 with a re-inforced steel frame, cushy mats along the bottom, no windows, and 30 seats way in the back. After a brief training video, we boarded the aircraft and 15 minutes after taking off we reached air space off the coast where the FAA allows G-Force to swoop up and down like a roller coaster.

For the climbs, we lay down still on the mats, barely able to lift our limbs as the plane's acceleration exerted 1.8g on our bodies. I found the feeling quite restful--not unlike being pinned down by my kids sleeping on top of me. As the plane started to crest the first time, the pilots followed a course that induced "Martian gravity", or 1/3 Earth gravity. For the next 30 seconds, we all performed stunts like one-armed push-ups.

As Peter called out "Feet Down" we all found a place on the mat for the next climb. the next two parabolas were shaped to induce lunar gravity, or 1/6 that of Earth's. During these episodes we easily pushed ourselves to a standing position with our fingers, and leapt through the cabin like gold medal gymnasts.

The next dozen parabolas all simulated zero gravity. For the first one we simply enjoyed the serenity of floating. In the second parabola we released M&Ms in the air and floated around trying to catch them. Another time we squeezed globs of water out of our bottles, and watched them float around--some of them into our mouths--like levitating soap bubbles. Once we played catch--with other passengers, who curled up into balls as we tossed them through the cabin. Once I launched off the bulkhead to fly like Superman through the cabin, and another time I just sat on the ceiling. I completed a full circle by crawling up the walls and over the ceiling, and I accomplished a quintuple somersault in the air. And each time we heard "Feet Down" we'd play a variation of musical chairs, scrambling for floor space before gravity kicked in.

The afternoon was thrilling and eye-opening. I had the chance to experience something I had only dreamed of, and without the risk of a rocket launch. It was fun, pure and simple, and I highly recommend you try it.

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  1. Anonymous9:13 PM

    Just did this myself a couple months back -- what a thrill!

  2. Very cool. On my to-do list.

  3. Anonymous12:08 PM

    The thoroughness of your articles inspires me! That photo of you "flying" is fantastic!