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Are there any places that you can become weightless other than space?

One of the greatest wonders of space flight is that people and objects float in space. The world is enticed by this experience of "zero-gravity" or "weightlessness". Lately, there has been a push by scientists to replace these words with the term "microgravity".

A spacecraft that is orbiting the Earth is not beyond the Earth's gravity (in fact, the Earth's gravity holds it in orbit). So the term zero-gravity is a bit misleading. People and objects aren't really weightless when in space. Instead, they are in a state of free-fall around the Earth. This freefall creates a microgravity environment where things float.

One way to simulate microgravity on Earth is to simulate this freefall. A turbojet owned by NASA does just this. Through a series of manuevers, brief periods (20 seconds) of simulated weightlessness are achieved. NASA uses this turbojet to train astronauts for microgravity tasks and to prepare them for the sensations they will encounter while in orbit.

The nickname of the turbojet is the "Vomit Comet". (Can you guess why?) Due to numerous transitions in and out of weightlessness, most first-time passengers experience motion sickness to some degree. Needless to say, losing one's breakfast in microgravity can get very messy!

Submitted by Alex (Denver, Colorado, USA)
(December 8,1997)

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA