Let's face it, gravity is a b----.
Dieters know it, basketball players know it and kids with dreams of becoming Superman know it.
But there's little the average person has been able to do about it, until now.
Welcome to Las Vegas. Here, in a city that regularly eschews reality for fantasy, gravity is now as easy to overcome as a morning hangover all courtesy of the Zero Gravity Corporation.
In 2007, ZERO-G commercial weightless flights began departing from the Signature Air Terminal at McCarran International Airport. The flights create weightlessness in three phases for passengers, who've ranged from Stephen Hawking to Martha Stewart to the nerdy guy next door who's been socking away money for his own personal space trip (This is not an econo flight. Tickets start at $4,950.).
Aboard a modified Boeing 727, passengers experience a series of 15 parabolas (think the same shape as rolling hills) that when tackled at just the right speed -- with some science variables thrown in -- create 30-second intervals of weightlessness for those onboard.
"With the launch of ZERO-G's regular flights from Las Vegas, the general public now has convenient access to an incredible adventure that was previously only available to astronauts," said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, co-founder of ZERO-G. "Visitors flock to Las Vegas for once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and ZERO-G will deliver on that expectation and then some. ZERO-G is destined become Las Vegas' greatest attraction for young and old, for anyone who ever wanted to fly like Superman or float like an astronaut."
This is not your typical flight. From the outside the plane looks normal enough, but inside it's a different story. The rear of the aircraft houses rows of seats not unlike the ones you squeezed yourself into when you flew into Las Vegas, but the front half is completely empty and lined with a semi-squishy white padding. This is where the magic happens. This is where your average, athletically-challenged, middle-aged man floats by sandwiched into his flight suit telling everyone who'll listen that he's Superman.
The funny thing is, for a few seconds, he is Superman.
The "Superman" portion of the flight isn't immediate -- first there's the Moon and Mars to conquer. In an effort to get passengers acclimated to shifts in gravity, and ultimately, weightlessness, the first parabola simulates your weight on Mars (one-sixth of your actual weight). The next is your weight on the moon (one-third of your actual weight).
For a sneak peek at what the next 12 parabolas are like, check out that never-ending loop of 'Apollo 13' appearing on cable these days. Watch for the scenes where Tom Hanks and company are effectively floating around the set. Those scenes were filmed onboard a Zero-G flight.
It's hard to come up with a description of what weightlessness feels like. Renowned physicist Stephan Hawking summed it up in a single word -- "amazing." High praise from the man who's taught the world a thing or two about space. His daughter, Lucy, expanded a little more, saying that, "for a moment, he was free."
Of course, zero gravity is what you make of it. Exclamations heard onboard range from things like, "This is the easiest diet ever!" to "I just did five somersaults!" And there are moments of deep concentration, too -- at one point, the crew instructs passengers to open bags of M&M's and then, as they float around the cabin, gobble them up Pac-Man style. We never said it was rocket science, only that there were rocket scientists on board.
The entire flight is photographed by a professional photographer. Sure, you may want to bring your own camera, but take our advice, photography at zero gravity is best left to those who have mastered the art of a weightless tuck and roll.
Mounted around each of the three padded areas are several high-definition video cameras, which also capture the action. About a week or two after your flight, you'll be able to view your experience online, which prompts hours of more glowing recollection, probably to the annoyance of family and friends, who have been hearing about your flight non-stop for the past 12 days.
A lot of different things make up the ZERO-G experience -- the neat flight suit (which you get to keep), the post-landing "regravitation" party, an official certificate proclaiming your accomplishment, the list goes on, but it's clear what the real jewel in the weightless experience is -- being weightless.
-- Review by Jamie Helmick