The Boeing 727 known as G-FORCE ONE noses over for its first lunar parabola of the morning. The majority of its crew being first-time fliers: a unanimous wave of excitement and awe sweeps over the interior, as they miraculously lift off the floor for the first time.
During our training in the days before the flight, we'd been told to just take the first few parabolas to get used to the sensation of reduced gravity as well as the hypergravity experienced while the plane recovered in altitude for the next drop. Despite all the verbal and mental preparations I had been run through, it was still something quite different than what I was expecting.
There are no windows in our section of the aircraft to see out of, but the pictures of the plane during its ascent and descent show a pretty impressive angle. And although the plane certainly doesn't fly like any other commercial plane, it felt surprisingly natural after the first few nose-overs.
Not so much a sensation of falling or panic, as one might expect from a plane about to free-fall, but credit goes to the skill of the pilots for keeping the ride so smooth that you can't really tell anything other than feeling alternatively lighter and heavier during the parabolas.
I was busy most of the time, operating our experiment, but even with that distraction, the experience was one that I will hope to carry with me the rest of my life. Especially the first few parabolas getting used to lunar gravity, and the zero-G parabolas at the end, were awesome. If I had the chance to do it again, I would take it in an instant.
Normal things act very differently in reduced gravity, and even more perplexingly in zero-G. I noticed that at least the look of things floating in zero-G, or people hopping around in the lunar parabolas, seemed exactly as I had seen on video from NASA footage from the actual locations. The lunar gravity seemed more fun to me, partly because I could still do normal things, but just felt like a superhero, and the zero gravity was so wildly different, it was hard to control your movements.
And now, 24 hours after our flight, the second day's fliers are preparing to take off, taking the experiment through its second run, as well as taking in the Zero-G experience. :)