Zero-Gravity Flights and the Space Age

Over the last 17 years the curiosity for space travel and colonizing other planets has grown substantially. Even private companies are taking the lead and raising millions of dollars to finance their experiments and go beyond of what government owned agencies like NASA from the US, RFSA from Russia (the agency controlled much of the aeronautical technology and space travel before 2000) and CNSA from China have done over the last 80 years in the aeronautics industry. Companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have been able to perform much better and developed cutting-edge technology (at a low-cost which is a competitive advantage for these firms). However, until either government agencies or private companies make space travel cheap enough for commercial purposes the zero gravity aircraft provides this experience that simulates outer space conditions either for training, leisure or experiments.

Contrary to what many of us think, zero-gravity flights have been around for more than 70 years starting with the first operations in Germany in 1949. However, due to war conditions and the fall of the Germans the project did not take off. Nonetheless, after the end of the Second World War, the engineers who were working on the project (Heinz Haber and Fritz Haber) were taken to the US to compete against the Russians for the space race. NASA immediately developed experiments to simulate weightlessness for its astronauts who later participated in the Apollo missions and in fact manufactured a plane named KC-135A. However, the agency reduced the flights after some of the participants became ill. This fact has not stopped other governments to carry out zero-gravity flights. For instance, the European Space Agency has been carrying out this flight for training since 1984, and in fact, had developed in conjunction with the French government and Airbus a plane conditioned for this practice (A300 and 310) which first commercial flight took place in 2015, eleven years after the US. Since then the flights have become very popular, although the price is not still affordable ranging from €5,000 to €7,000 per person. Today the commercial flights are carried out on a Boeing 727 or G-FORCE ONE specially customized to avoid injuries.

But how do zero-gravity flights work? In order to experience the state weightlessness planes, follow a three-stage process. First, the plane reaches 32,000 feet with an angle of 45 degrees. Secondly, the plane reached the ZERO-G or a flat position and lastly the plane puts the nose down and the weightlessness sensation lasts for 30 seconds to recover normal trajectory through the parabolic manoeuvre. Travellers can experience different types of gravity like Lunar (1/6th) or Martian (1/3rd). In the documented trips people seem to be floating but in reality, they enter in a state of free fall at the same speed of the plane, which is compared to sky diving but protected from the wind. However, this continues to be one of the greatest achievement of human kind that now is at the reach of people.

Aeronautics and space travel have become a symbol of unification among people and nations and a market for private companies which, in turn, is good as they will trigger innovation (as it was the case of zero-gravity flights). Such innovation can take us further into space and at some point be part of it as companies like Virgin Galactic with its spaceship and SpaceX with Falcon Heavy have promised.

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