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NASA Space Technology

NASA Offering Free Zero Gravity Flights 52

An anonymous reader writes to tell us that NASA is offering free zero-g flight time for anyone with a viable proposal for emerging space technologies. While NASA will provide the flight time, approved projects will be responsible for all other expenses. "NASA's Facilitated Access to the Space Environment for Technology Development and Training, or FAST, program helps emerging technologies mature through testing in a reduced gravity environment. To prepare technologies for space applications, it is important to demonstrate they work in a zero-gravity environment. This unique testing environment can be provided in an aircraft flying repeated parabolic trajectories which create brief periods of zero gravity. The aircraft also can simulate reduced-gravity levels similar to those found on the surface of the moon or Mars."
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NASA Offering Free Zero Gravity Flights

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  • Fights? (Score:5, Funny)

    by HetMes ( 1074585 ) on Saturday January 31, 2009 @07:13AM (#26676097)
    Immediately, Chinese action movie images went through my head. But alas, no Crouching Tiger in space just yet. Would be cool, though, Zero-G Fights.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      This unique testing environment can be provided in an aircraft flying repeated parabolic trajectories which create brief periods of zero gravity.

      Speaking of mental images, I cracked up imagining them trying to choreograph a fight sequence in such a parabolic flight: What happens as gravity returns and they are still floating in the air?

      • Re:Fights? (Score:5, Informative)

        by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday January 31, 2009 @07:35AM (#26676153) Homepage Journal

        This unique testing environment can be provided in an aircraft flying repeated parabolic trajectories which create brief periods of zero gravity.

        Speaking of mental images, I cracked up imagining them trying to choreograph a fight sequence in such a parabolic flight: What happens as gravity returns and they are still floating in the air?

        Exactly the same thing as when gravity is there all the time.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Better actually--the thing with parabolic flight is--they start climbing again. Not just regular gravity--but multiple times normal gravity!

        • Re:Fights? (Score:4, Informative)

          by feyhunde ( 700477 ) on Saturday January 31, 2009 @03:16PM (#26679015)
          I was extremely lucky to be involved in the NASA SOAR program the last year the KC-135 was used. (Now it's a DC-9) SOAR is the free program for undergraduate research to be involved with Microgravity experiments. Something like 32 student groups a year get to use it in 2 week periods. NASA is also good at about getting multiple schools involved. Everyone from MIT to WVU and Oregon State is involved. Back to the topic. What happens isn't a sharp fall, it takes a small amount of time to pull out of it, so you don't quite fall normally. And then once you get up to 1G you then go up to 2G in a short time. The first and last sets of parabolas are also a different type designed to replicate Lunar and Martian gravity.
      • Would probably look something like this (SFW) []

    • by Snaller ( 147050 )

      They look like they were in a slow motion while you wait for the combatants drift close enough to hit each other again.

  • I would like to take a slashdot troll up and see what the effect of zero-G is on said troll with a view to simulating any nausea and vomiting right here on the ground upon the user hitting the submit button. All I'll need is myself, a troll, a barf bag and a stick to whack the troll with.

    There. Do I get my free zero-G flight now?

  • "Zero gravity" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by julesh ( 229690 ) on Saturday January 31, 2009 @07:18AM (#26676107)

    I wish people would stop referring to this as zero gravity, which is a totally ridiculous name for it. As is the name "microgravity" I've seen used. Let's call it what it is: freefall.

    • Re:"Zero gravity" (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday January 31, 2009 @07:33AM (#26676149)

      Isn't microgravity what makes people participate in American Idol?

      Snideness aside, you know that things need a catchy term. "Zero Gravity", while not technically correct (because there IS gravity and if the plane wasn't there you'd notice it as soon as the contact with the object exhibiting this gravity effect on the object that is you (the former object being the planet Earth) is reestablished, people understand what is meant when "zero gravity" is mentioned. Basically the "zero gravity" experienced in space flights is not really zero gravity either, it's just that the gravity of the planet you circle around is in balance with the velocity of the space craft. Essentially, you're falling around the planet.

      But do you want to write such a paragraph every time you want to explain the phenomenon? Because it ain't really "freefall" either.

      • He said that acceleration==gravity* and that you are talking out of your ass.

        *) And hence a free falling body experienses zero gravity!

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by mrsquid0 ( 1335303 )

          More precisely, Einstein's General Theory of Relativity postulates that a uniform gravitational field is equivalent to a uniform acceleration. They are not the same thing, they are just indistinguishable.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by The Creator ( 4611 )

            But if the observer cannot know the difference, then under relativity, how can you claim that there is a difference?

      • Snideness aside, you know that things need a catchy term.

        The plane in question is called the "vomit comet", catchy enough for NASA []?

      • Re:"Zero gravity" (Score:5, Interesting)

        by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday January 31, 2009 @09:25AM (#26676465)

        In orbit, the preferred term is "microgravity". Manned space flights are notoriously prone to bursts of acceleration, but no spacecraft is acceleration free, and they all tend to vibrate a lot (causing acceleration to the pieces, if not the whole).

        Basically, every panel, every antenna, every boom, has one or more resonance frequencies. Every time something shakes the spacecraft (such as going from dark to sunlight, or vice-versa, or a thruster burst, or a piece of equipment being moved), every one of those spacecraft components will be excited somewhat, and each will vibrate at its resonance frequency, maybe for weeks. These motions can be clearly seen in RF carrier phase from spacecraft; and for most spacecraft they are always present (shaking occurs more frequently than their damping time). Theis has to be considered anytime you have an experiment that does require micro-gravity.

    • Re:"Zero gravity" (Score:4, Informative)

      by mrfrostee ( 30198 ) on Saturday January 31, 2009 @09:16AM (#26676435) Homepage

      "Microgravity" is the correct term for the background acceleration levels present on the International Space Station, and is commonly used by researchers who care about the exact levels of disturbance on their experiments (even researchers on the Vomit Comet).

      Gravity gradients and small disturbances (hard drive motors, astronauts bumping the walls, etc.) make the broad spectrum acceleration noise floor on the ISS about 10 micro-Gs. Peaks caused by refrigerator pumps, maneuvering jets, Soyuz and Shuttle dockings, etc. are much higher.

      More information is at NASA Principal Investigator Microgravity Services: []

    • It depends on how you look at it really. If you look at the planet, the plane falling into it and the person inside the plane falling with it there is certainly gravity. However if you only look at the plane and the person inside it there is no gravity affecting the person. The forces affecting the person relative to the plane are almost zero.
      Or similarly take a truck that carries cars on it. The truck is driving a certain velocity and so are the cars parked on the truck. However if you take the truck as
      • This concept seems to be hit or miss for people. Either you get it, or you struggle with it.

        I think it's a brain wiring trait.

      • However if you only look at the plane and the person inside it there is no gravity affecting the person.

        Correct me if I'm wrong, but in space astronaut's faces get puffy [] because there is no gravity that the blood flow has to fight like on Earth. But in this scenario, gravity is pulling you down and is thus still working against that blood flow out of the heart. You might not be falling in relation to the plane, but you are still falling and so the sensation is not quite the same. Or have I missed somet

        • No, I believe there it no difference between you being weightless inside the plane and your blood being weightless inside of you.
  • Didn't the toilet on the ISS break down a while back? Maybe NASA would be interested in a more reliable model.

    I'm sure a lot of folks would be able to rig up a prototype with parts available from their local building supply store.

    Did "Make" magazine have a "Build Your Own Zero Gravity Toilet (ZGT)" article yet?

    Or just install the ZGT in your house to impress your guests, when they read the sign on the door of your bathroom stating:

    "Attention! Zero Gravity Toilet! Read these instructions carefull

    • "Attention! Zero Gravity Toilet! Read these instructions carefully!"

      Its easier when you are half way to the moon (and the only passenger). Reading the instructions and using the toilet might be difficult on a parabolic hop.

  • by Peet42 ( 904274 ) <Peet42@N[ ] ['ets' in gap]> on Saturday January 31, 2009 @08:38AM (#26676337)

    ...of fitting proper lighting to the plane and painting the inside of the hull green so I can shoot some "proper" space footage in there and CGI the backgrounds in at a later date?

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Did you know that this is how Apollo 13 was filmed?
      They built the CM/LEM sets inside a "Vomit Comet" and ensured that no shot was over 30 seconds long.

  • It's a bad sign for the space program that they aren't offering money. :^(

  • by gmueckl ( 950314 ) on Saturday January 31, 2009 @09:51AM (#26676543)

    We are participating in one of ESA's scientific parbolic flight campaigns and I therefore had the chance to get some insight about the costs involved. The participation fee alone is about 60.000 Euros and more than twice the costs we had for building the experiments. For this we get 90 parabolas with 20 seconds of microgravity for experimenting.

    Assuming that the cost structure for NASA's campaign participants is similar, NASA's offer to let these teams participate for free seems to be quite generous. Is there anyone here with more details?

  • Is this real new? (Score:3, Informative)

    by cashman73 ( 855518 ) on Saturday January 31, 2009 @10:21AM (#26676653) Journal
    I'm pretty sure that the late CMU CS Professor, Randy Pausch [], talked about doing one of these proposals in the vomit comet during this last lecture,...
  • I want to see what happens if Chuck Norris roundhouse-kicks the flight from the inside. In theory it should propel the aircraft away from Chuck, but since he is inside the aircraft it will hit him in the back of the head. Perhaps we can get this whole "unstoppable force meets the immovable object"-discourse put to rest.

    Oh, and it has to be done in microgravity because it'd be intrinsically cooler.
  • by Joebert ( 946227 ) on Saturday January 31, 2009 @10:50AM (#26676753) Homepage
    I can just see it now.

    In front of a NASA officials desk sits a well dressed man smoking a cigar pitching his project to the official who has an uneasy look on his face.

    We hears that you guys here at the NASA have a problem involving the uh, reporduction, in space. Here's what we're gonna do for you.
    As you can see, Debbie and Frank back there ain't wearin much. In fact, all they're wearin is our new uh, prototype. It is this, prototype, that will allow Debbie and Frank back there to, reproduce, in space.
    We have the crew, all of the required equipment, and our own camera men to uh, document, our product and the techniques involved in the products use.
    All we need from you here at the NASA, is the zero gravity.

    Meanwhile a man and a woman are standing in the back of the NASA officials office wearing nothing but leather strap outfits, he has a chain attached to a leather collar on his neck and she is holding the other end.

    Hey Frank, do you think they'll go for it ?

    I sure hope so Deb, it would be the first time I was ever encouraged to get to the money shot as quickly as possible.

"To take a significant step forward, you must make a series of finite improvements." -- Donald J. Atwood, General Motors