A mission of gravity
Students take stomach-churning plunge on NASA's Vomit Comet
An expanded Web version of segments seen on CNN
May 1, 1997
Web posted at: 12:06 p.m. EDT (1606 GMT)
From Correspondent Miles O'Brien
HOUSTON (CNN) --- To fly on this plane, you've got to have
the right stuff -- including industrial strength
motion-sickness pills and barf bags by the bundle.
The plane, NASA's Vomit Comet, is aptly named, as a
group of Texas A&M University undergraduates recently were
given a chance to find out.
The cadets, decked out in olive green, were willing to turn
green in the pursuit of scientific research -- and to get a
taste of weightlessness.
The plane is a KC-135, the military version of the Boeing
707. Based in Houston, NASA flies it over the Gulf of Mexico
in a roller coaster pattern known as a parabolic curve.
NASA normally uses the Vomit Comet to train astronauts, test
equipment and carry out experiments.
The fun starts when the plane noses over into a steep dive,
creating a free fall that simulates the weightlessness of
But the price for 30 seconds of floating fun is sudden, equal
doses of two Gs, or a doubling of Earth's gravity. It's the
sudden reversal that causes many passengers to lose their
'You can go to the beach any day'
In fact, it's tougher than riding on the space shuttle, says
test director Bob Williams. After 65,000 parabolas, he
M o v i e
Williams says flying on the Vomit Comet is tougher than riding in a space shuttle.
(13 sec. /485K QuickTime movie)
"You are going up there and having lots of hyper G -- or more
than one-G -- experiences and then you swoop to zero-G and do
this over and over again," Williams said. "It's hard on you."
The Texas A&M team was among about 100 students from two
dozen colleges who answered NASA's call for proposals to
design, build and fund a smorgasbord of scientific
experiments to take place in free fall.
Student have studied the human circulatory system, tested an
idea for a space-station damage detector and, in Texas A&M's
case, looked at ways to separate liquids and gases in space.
"It is just a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can go to
the beach any day," said Elizabeth King, a junior at Texas
Parting with the last meal
The students were carefully scrutinized before the flight.
Each had to pass a rigorous physical exam, spend some time in
a chamber that creates conditions found at high altitude and
pass a written test.
The program has cost NASA about $100,000, but NASA officials
say it's money well spent if some of these bright minds are
enticed to join the ranks.
Student DeLeah Lockridge was among the "kills," as NASA
lovingly calls those who become separated from their latest
meal while in flight.
"It was kind of like being on a roller coaster going over the
top when your stomach jumps to the top. ... But on the
KC-135, it never came down," Lockridge said.
She was not alone. By the 40th and final parabola, the
cushioned cabin looked like a battlefield, littered with
casualties of nausea.
But at the conclusion of the trip, the enthusiasm quickly
returned. One student termed it "the most fun I've ever had
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