I’m now back home from Houston, analyzing our data from the flight and relishing the memories of the entire experience.
A lot of what I remember centers around how completely different the experience of weightless flying was, not only from anything I had done before but also from what I had expected. I love rollercoasters and have been on some great ones; some of those provide weightless moments where I felt like I was floating momentarily. But an extended period of weightlessness is so different! On the first parabola I found myself being shot up to the ceiling, like I had been catapulted upward. On the second, I thought I’d get smarter and hold on to an equipment box that was bolted to the floor, but all that did was hold my hand and arm down; my feet pitched upward and I quickly found myself upside-down. One of my fellow flyers said that “your feet get stupid” in weightlessness, and that’s pretty much true until you figure out how to make them smarter.
Even though our equipment broke apart catastrophically on the first day of flying, we still got some good data, and the equipment was completely repaired and rebuilt for the second day’s flying. Our data are definitely useable in the classroom, which was the whole point of the flight in the first place.
The entire experience in Houston was amazing. The people I worked with were awesome, from the Space Cowboys to the NASA staff to the other research teams from all parts of the country. I got to see NASA facilities from behind-the-scenes where the tourists don’t get to go; I got to be at the welcome-home reception for the astronauts who flew the final Space Shuttle mission; I experienced a Texas-sized thunderstorm; I heard a talk from an engineer who designs and builds space suits. Most of all, I got to experience the Vomit Comet, something very few people ever get to do. I’d go again in a heartbeat, and there are so many more experiments I’d love to do if I got the chance. How to do them in the extreme conditions of weightlessness, in a box, with stupid feet, with a brain fogged by anti-nausea meds … well .. that’s the challenge. But it’s a challenge well worth taking on.