An experience like no other: from Space Cowboy Mr. Guilbert
Ours was one of six experiments on board the Weightless Wonder. Seeing the experiment that we had worked so hard on for so long finally get loaded into the plane was pretty amazing.The inside of the airplane is pretty much like any other airplane except that there are no seats in most of the cabin. There is a small seating area in the back where we sit for takeoff and landing, but otherwise the cabin has no furnishings … but it does have several platforms to hold our experiment boxes, as well as thick padding on the floors, walls, and ceiling for when we crash into them during weightlessness.
As it turned out, it was a really good thing that we flew on two consecutive days rather than just one. On Tuesday, the first day, our experiment was an epic fail, at least scientifically. We had good ideas and we built our apparatus carefully, but none of us had any idea how destructive the stresses of the flight could be until they literally took apart our equipment in flight. Everything in the plane weighs about twice as much as normal at the bottom of each ‘parabola’, and the usual turbulence the plane undergoes gets magnified. As a result, the stresses literally unscrewed bolts, snapped cables, and sent solid metal parts flying around inside our experiment box. Needless to say, we got no data at all on the first day of flying. We got to experience 30 periods of weightlessness, however, as well as one ‘parabola’ that mimicked lunar gravity and one that mimicked the gravity on the surface of Mars.
We did get to see weightlessness in action, both in the part of our equipment that worked and in being able to do generally goofy things in between tending to our equipment.
Wednesday’s flight went much better scientifically. We got good video and data on all of our experiments, and once we analyze it and correlate it to the moment-by-moment strength of gravity during the flight, we will know better the potential usefulness of our results. Wednesday’s flight saw several flyers become very ill, but fortunately, none of the Cowboys did. As a result, however, some of the parabolas had to be delayed, which made the flight longer and more circuitous than Tuesday’s had been.
At this point, we are facing Tropical Storm Don, which is forecast to make landfall near here (possibly as a hurricane) on Friday evening. The coming storm has already changed the weightless flight plans for the rest of the week, and it may make getting back to Hightstown a bit complicated. Stay tuned!
Click below to see a gallery of photos from our Wednesday experience!