“Five, four, three, two, one …” In general, the pilots of airliners rarely count down the time before the start, as if launching a rocket. But this is an unusual plane. At a minimum, everyone on board, not including the team, has a degree and completed a full medical examination. This trip is not for the faint of heart. You see, you do not need to fly into space to experience weightlessness. Sue Nelson of the BBC described how passengers are sent to microgravity conditions – at least for a couple of seconds.
“Climb. Thirty forty…”
The captain’s instructions concern the maneuver so complex that it requires the presence of all three pilots in the cockpit. The plane rises almost vertically at an acute angle of 30, and then 40 degrees.
In the middle of the plane, where all the windows are blocked by soft walls, everyone either stands or lies or is sitting on the floor, because the seats in this Airbus A310 have been removed.
Several scientists wear headgear covered with electrodes. Others stuck their hands in open boxes, and they seem to have three hands. Many closely examine the metal appliances the size of a washing machine, with knife switches and screens. I’m lying on the floor, surrounded by a network.
All are absolutely immobile, because the pressure exerted on the body becomes stronger and stronger. Fortunately, in a few seconds we will all experience something amazing.
At 50 degrees, magic begins. The airplane enters a parabolic arc. The noise level suddenly drops and the airplane begins to fall free. The heaviness of the body, crushed by 1.8 G on the way up, is suddenly replaced by a feeling of lightness. Weightlessness.
For 20 short seconds I feel a wonderful lightness, and while someone behind me presses the cellophane bag to vomit to my mouth, I swim. I like too.
All on board experience the microgravity that astronauts encounter on board the International Space Station. This zero gravity plane, owned by Novespace, which was used by the European Space Agency for conducting scientific experiments in microgravity and, to a lesser extent, for training astronauts. Even in space there is always some amount of gravitational forces, because they are present between two objects with mass. Therefore, technically microgravity is a more precise term for sensing zero-gravity. True, zero-gravity or weightlessness sounds steeper and more familiar.
“There are 12 experiments on board,” explains Neil Melville, ESA’s parabolic flight coordinator. “This one is for testing gyroscopic actuators.” It points to a reticulated area with tiny square satellites – cufts. “With the help of the satellite, the ball will be tracked in zero gravity.”
He goes to the next group of scientists surrounding the metal box. “This experiment will flow inside the combustion chamber and show how the flame propagates under conditions of weightlessness.”
Another experiment involves the construction of a heat pump, which eventually will fly to the ISS. “And here we check the principle of weak equivalence. The usual Einstein science. ”
People with three hands are experimenting with the illusion of a rubber hand. If the brush strokes a realistic but fake arm next to your own real hand, the brain will mistakenly believe that a fake hand is part of your body. The experiment is conducted under microgravity conditions to determine if they change perception and related sensations.
“The whole parabolic arc takes one minute, including 20 seconds of zero-gravity,” Melville says. “But the plane makes 31 parabolas. One time in three minutes, so the experiment takes a little more than 10 minutes of microgravity. ”
It is not surprising that passengers are given medication for nausea before the flight, but some still do not carry, and they give in to vomit. Some adapt themselves to new sensations in a few arcs; others are sick until the very return to Earth. There are no toilets on board.
“So far, the biggest contribution to nausea has been a concern,” Melville said. “If you calm down, everything will be all right.”
Most people think that the awkward transition from 2G to the norm at the end of the flight is the most unpleasant part of the flight. On average, two people feel sick for flying. However, most scientists can cope with unusual working conditions. Soft ropes hang from the ropes. The foot straps help to keep the body in a vertical position and prevent it from swam up. “When the weightlessness stops, you do not want to fall on the experimental setup and break it.”
Six of the twelve experiments are part of ESA’s Flying Thesis program. Student Timo Klein from the German University of Sports is conducting an experiment that studies the work of the brain relative to the speed of blood flow.
Klein put on a cap covered with electrodes to measure the activity of his brain in order to demonstrate with the other two subjects the response to sound signals, use the keyboard and solve mathematical equations during 20-second periods of microgravity. “This is not a complicated equation, but in times of shortage it becomes a difficult cognitive task.”
Physical form is important for astronauts, but the state of the brain is also important, and isolation and microgravity for extended periods are known to not have the best effect on cognitive abilities.
“Prolonged isolation can reduce cognitive performance, but it has also been shown that cognitive performance improves under microgravity,” says Klein. “We are interested in the mechanisms behind this. In microgravity, blood flows into the brain, so we assume a connection here. ”
In theory, all this should not only provide a deep understanding of astronauts’ work in space, but also a potential application for developing better ways of helping patients with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
During the last five parabolas, intended for free flight, I swam several times to the ceiling. The grid was removed, because the German society of Mars is about to release a large shiny balloon. In any case, this is what this inflatable space structure looks like. After the parabolic arc enters the weightless stage, a tightly packed inflatable ball jumps out of the cylinder, and several large fans pump air into it.
This experiment is conducted for the first time and should provide invaluable information for the future mission. “No one knows what will happen to him in weightlessness,” says Tanya Lehmann from the society. “We expect that he will gradually come out of the container and open, but instead he goes out, freezes for a second and then begins to unfold.”
Inflatable structures will be tested on an atmospheric missile for a year or two. One day they will be released from the probe, which will conduct scientific measurements, falling on the surface of Mars.