Friday, June 19, 2009

You may now use Newton's Third Law to kiss the bride


Here's the scene: the bride's wearing a futuristic wedding dress, a celebrity minister is performing the rites, and a small group of queasy-looking family members and friends are in attendance. Where are we, a Las Vegas rent-a-chapel? No, we're aboard G-FORCE ONE, the only commercial microgravity aircraft, and it's the world's first "weightless" wedding.

Tomorrow about 24,000 feet in the air above Cape Canaveral, Florida, Erin Finnegan and Noah Fulmor will tie the knot in the presence of seven guests and space tourist Richard Garriott while experiencing free-fall on the "Vomit Comet." Cake will not be served.

There have been some great posts on this blog in the past on the many misconceptions people have about experiencing weightlessness. No, astronauts at the International Space Station don't float because they're far from the surface of the earth; gravity's influence on them is only reduced by about five percent. So simply flying high in a plane won't get you there either. For that hair-streaming, Apollo-13 thrill you're going to need several thousand dollars and a whole lot of free-fall.


In order to deliver that floating feeling, the vomit comet (reminds me of a car I once had) takes a parabolic trajectory--think a roller coaster ride with lots of drops. The plane pulls into a steep, 45 degree climb, during which the force on the happy couple and guests will be a teeth-gritting 1.8 gs, then reduces thrust before tipping downward to achieve 20-30 seconds of free-fall out of every 65 seconds. During this time feel free to tumble around, chase your champagne around the cabin, and suppress a second visit from your breakfast. (I hope they decide to film it, because the kiss is going to be hilarious.) Then the plane gently levels out before climbing again. Here's a very scientific video exploring the effects of weightlessness on a teddy bear:



And if you don't have 5 Gs just lying around, NASA provides opportunities for students to experience microgravity on board their own vomit comet in the name of science. This excellent video by Rochester Institute of Technology chronicles the adventures of a team of college students who set out to find if printers work in zero-g:



Wait a sec, wait a sec: if free-fall is all you need to feel like you're floating in space, why didn't the astronautics-crazed couple don't just have an ordinary sky-diving wedding?Unless they planned to sky-dive from the stratosphere, all that air rushing by would definitely exert a force on the lovers, ruining the sensation of weightlessness.

The good news is, there's a cheap, easy way for the average joe to simulate the lives of Mir cosmonauts, which we can see illustrated below:



That's the high-tech method NASA doctors use to decide the long-term affects of extraterrestrial environments on the human body. Human guinea pigs (they're paid 160 bucks a day) at NASA’s Human Test Subject Facility in Galveston, Texas lie at on a hospital bed tilted at 9.5 degrees for six days at a time, so that the force along the length of your body is about 1/6 your weight (your mass times gravity), or the force you'd feel if you were standing on the moon. I see a market for simulated lunar weddings.

1 comment:

  1. uhh...how does newton's third law connect to roller coasters

    ReplyDelete