Florida 2018: Day 9 - Zero-G


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Florida 2018: [Day 1: Murfreesboro] [Day 2: Merritt Island] [Day 3: Riviera Beach] [Day 4: Key Largo] [Day 5: Key Largo] [Day 6: Key West] [Day 7: Dry Tortugas] [Day 8: Orlando] [Day 9: Zero-G] [Day 10: Cincinnati]

Saturday, July 28, 2018: We awoke to a sunny day. More than any other day of this vacation, we needed this one to be nice.
We checked out of the Renaissance Orlando, ...
... loaded our luggage into the van, which was parked in the very closest non-valet spot (score!), ...
... and were on our way. We passed the Orlando County Convention Center, ...
... then Universal's Volcano Bay, which we had seen from a distance as we drove to Merritt Island a week earlier.
It's amusing that some marketing is very specific to the region, like this Orlando-centric Chik-fil-A rollercoaster billboard.
Ditto for this McDonald's billboard.
This is an attractive building that just happens to look like an air-conditioning vent.
Of course, we were obsessing over the weather all morning. We just needed good weather until about 1:00 PM. So naturally, that's what the weather forecast predicted.
We rolled up to the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary before 8:30, but held off on going in util 8:45. Our scheduled arrival time was 9:00 but there was no way we were going to risk being late.
Ooooh, pretty hotel art!
We were here for the Zero-G experience, which would involve experiencing weightlessness. This was our special celebration for Tom turning 50 earlier in the month. Our orientation would be in this meeting room.
A continental breakfast was available for all participants.
None of these foods were supposed to disagree with your stomach, which is kind of important for this experience.
After eating breakfast, we noticed that the bags on the chairs had names on them. They contained a Zero-G t-shirt and a Zero-G flight suit in our sizes. They also had socks and wristbands in them, which indicated which group we were assigned to: gold, blue, or silver.
We put on our flight suits with our upside-down nametags.
We marvelled at all of the different pockets for hiding all the stuff we wanted to bring with us.
Check in was running about 20 minutes late. When it opened, each of us provided our ID to verify our identity, both for Zero-G's purposes and for FAA security purposes.
Once everyone was checked in, Zero-G president Therese Brewster greeted us and ...
... introduced the crew, including two team leaders, three pilots, the flight coordinator, ...
... and the trip photographer, who told us about the photographs and video he'd be taking plus some tips for getting great photos. Therese and the crew took questions and told us a little about the experience. We all watched a video about procedures and safety when they were done.
When it was time to go, Debbie took a dose of dramamine and then the Blue team posed for a quick Polaroid at Marie's request.
It was 10:40 AM when we went through a security screening and got on the bus to take us to Sanford International Airport. We talked to Therese for a few minutes on the ride and heard about some of the celebrities who had been on previously flights, and more importantly, what types of weightlessness experiments had been performed. She told us that one involved making hash browns in space, which means that Debbie can now put aside her concern about not going to Mars because there will be no French fries there.
By 11:15, we were on the tarmac with the beautiful G-Force One.
Photographer Steve took group photos of everyone before we boarded the plane. Many of the photos on this page were taken by him and provided to the passengers, so all photos with ZG470 in the file name are copyright Steve Boxall.
Steve caught Debbie directing Tom to pose in front of the airplane.
Here's the photo Debbie was taking.
Debbie posed for the same photo.
Next, we boarded the plane.
That's us on the far right above and the far left here ...
... being the last ones to board.
We were in no hurry because we had assigned seats printed on real boarding passes, just like a regular flight, except that these were much cooler.
We were in seats 3C and 3D, across the aisle from each other. On the return trip, the other person in Tom's row moved to one of the other empty spots, so Debbie moved to sit next to him.
The airplane is set up with six rows of seats in the back of the plane ...
... with the rest of the plane completely open.
The open area is divided into three sections, marked with gold, blue, and silver tape for each of the three teams.
Crew member Deb hosted the safety briefing, complete with instructions on using your seat belt.
Debbie got some last minute photos of Milo and Jeffrey on one side of the row, ...
... and Tom and Dave on the other side of the row. Dave was the only passenger who had flown before, so he got to wear his name tag right side up.
The crew collected our shoes and stored them in gold, blue, and silver bags in a room at the front of the plane.
Check out our excellent blue team socks!
Our flight started to move at 11:38 AM, took off at 11:49 AM, and the crew was out of their seats to setup by noon. Therese handed out nausea bags, ...
... plus lots of other things to help while ...
... Steve made the final adjustments on the GoPro cameras for the video.
We got out of our seats and gathered for another group photo.
Debbie grabbed a quick shot of the outside scenery from one of the few windows in the plane.
Wow, this is really happening!
We all went to our designated areas. Stefan was our team leader.
He went over some last minute instructions ...
... while Steve wandered around catching photos of everyone. In our team, clockwise from left, are: Nestor, Dave, Stefan, Milo, Jeffrey, Debbie, Tom, Bruno, and Marie.
The silver team was having its own meeting in the back of the plane, ...
... while Therese filled in as a team leader for the gold team at the front of the plane.
The GoPro cameras were in place, capturing everything.
We were just happy to be there, ...
... and smiled at any camera aimed at us, including Milo's.
Around 12:15, we were close to our first parabola, so we found a spot on the floor mats and waited for the first sharp climb of the airplane. We'd feel 1.8Gs of pressure, so we were advised to find a spot on the ceiling to focus on to minimize the chance of nausea.
At 12:19, we started our first parabola. It simulated Mars' gravity, which is 1/3 Earth gravity. This family in the gold group demonstrated how easy it was to do pushups in this gravity.
After 20 - 25 seconds, the call went out: "Feet down, coming out!" That was our cue to get our feet below us and to find a spot on the mat in time for the next climb.
The second parabola started a minute after the first one ended.
This time, we were experiencing the moon's gravity, which is 1/6 of Earth's gravity.
This was pretty close to weightlessness and just the slightest jump hurtled us toward the ceiling.
A minute later, the third parabola started.
This was also a 1/6 gravity simulation designed to help us prepare for complete weightlessness.
We were ready!
Here's the fourth parabola, which was our first of 12 weightless parabolas. Here is team leader Robert getting to fly with his kids for the first time: Anna and Robbie.
During the fifth parabola, Steve got a great shot of these three friends in the gold group.
Meanwhile, Debbie was busy bonking her head on the ceiling during weightlessness.
Tom took these pictures during a couple of parabolas, but for the most part, we did not use our cameras while we were weightless.
After five parabolas, the plane stabilized and flew at a steady altitude for four minutes. This gave everyone a chance to rest, and gave the blue team a chance to get in place for our Superman shot.
At the start of the sixth parabola, we were off!
It sounds like it will go much more smoothly than it actually will.
This was the last Superman-ish photo before it devolved into a mess of people tumbling in mid-air. It was great fun!
Steve focused on some of the silver team members during the seventh parabola.
Tom got more photos of Debbie during the eighth parabola. That's Tom's foot on the right.
Just hanging out, being weightless. No big deal.
Oh, yes, coming back to earth is so glamourous.
Tom was still aiming his camera by the time Debbie got hers out.
The team leaders got out some candy during the eighth parabola. Here, during the ninth parabola, Bruno demonstrated the proper technique for catching it in his mouth.
Then, Steve got a bunch of photos of us.
Can you spot Tom in this photo?
There he is!
Debbie had been wanting to cut her hair for a long time, but she didn't, and this is why.
All those pictures of long-haired astronauts on the International Space Station proved that having long hair in weightlessness is great.
Her hair definitely had a mind of its own, ...
... but this is clearly the winning hair shot.
This is the leading candidate for a Christmas card photo, wouldn't you agree?
We took another four minute break before the tenth parabola.
This time, it was the gold team's turn to take a Superman photo.
Looks like fun!
Meanwhile, Debbie had her camera out to take photos of Tom during this parabola.
He's up, ...
... he's in position, ...
... and he's spinning in place.
Here's our teammate, Jeffrey, during the eleventh parabola.
Here are researchers George and Stephanie working on some science during the twelfth parabola.
We took our last four-minute break, ...
... and we were both loving the experience.
The silver team got into position for their Superman shot.
And they're off!
Stephanie had a great shirt on under her flight suit.
Finally, we had two parabolas left to go. Here's the start of parabola 14.
Steve was there to capture every second of the action.
We're near the ceiling, ...
... and starting to rotate.
Let's rotate this photo to see things from Tom's orientation.
Since these were the last two parabolas, Stefan was dispensing water drops for us to catch.
Milo's just about got it!
The mats were a little wet during the climb because of all the floating water that suddenly dropped to the ground.
During the fifteenth and last parabola, this family got their perfect Christmas card photo too.
By 12:47 PM, the fun was nearly over.
We had just one climb left ...
... to get back to normal cruising altitude, ...
... then there was a round of applause for a great experience.
Tom reviewed his photos on his phone, ...
... new friends chatted about the experience, ...
... and Steve showed some of his great shots to us. (That's Stefan in the background with some paper towels to wipe up the water on the mats.)
Even just seeing these through Steve's camera display, ...
... we knew these would be fantastic photos. We were lucky that we only had to wait two days until they were available for us. Nine days later, videos were available. Here's the video of the blue team.
The crew passed out water bottles and bags of snacks, which we happily wolfed down.
It was now shortly before 1:00, and Stefan got out the blue team's shoes, so it was time to put them back on and return to our seats.
The plane came to a halt exactly two hours after it had started to move.
Either individually or in groups, the passengers disembarked, got their name tags turned right side up in a NASA tradition indicating that you have completed your first flight, and were photographed with the flight coordinator and our team leader. Steve used a wide angle lens in a vertical layout for these photos, which is why we look so very tall and thin in this cropped portion of the bottom of the photo. It wasn't the weightlessness, unfortunately.
Here comes Nestor for his ceremony, ...
... and here's Milo posing for his photo.
We were back at the hotel by 2:15, where there was a buffet lunch waiting for us. There were pasta salad and three different types of sandwiches, ...
... cold beverages including some desperately needed Diet Pepsi, ...
... broccoli cheddar soup, Oreo brownies, and strawberry cheesecake. We chatted with some of the crew at lunch.
We should have received flight certificates at this point, but they hadn't arrived in time, so they were mailed to us later. Shiny!
Photographer Steve told us that we could look up the path of our flight on FlightAware by searching for VTS714. Sure enough - there's all of our info, just like it's a real flight! Click on the image to see the full details.
Shortly before 3:00, we were on our way out, ...
... and at 3:15, the rain finally came. We laughed and laughed that our amazing weather luck had come through for us again.
It had held off all day, but it just couldn't any longer. It came down in sheets and we didn't mind a bit.
Of course, it stopped for a few minutes when we went to Veteran's Memorial Park at Holly Hill ...
... to visit the Merci Box Car located there.
It's in beautiful shape after being freshened up in 2008. Read all about the Merci Train here.
The weather brightened again as we continued north.
We spotted the beautiful Dames Point Bridge in the distance.
A Maersk ship loaded with containers was just off to our right ...
... as we crossed the bridge.
More thunderstorms were visible off in the distance, as is Florida's style.
But hey, it's time to leave Florida.
"No gators, babe." Debbie gave her very last alligator report to Tom, as it was her job to check out the swamps near the road and warn of imminent danger.
Welcome to Georgia!
There's some Georgia scenery. There's the Sidney Lanier Bridge that leads to Jekyll Island out there in the distance.
There we go again with the regional McDonald's billboards. We still felt guilty about not trying Southern McDonald's biscuits on our friends' advice, but sorry, we're just not biscuit people.
We stopped in Brunswick, Georgia, specifically to eat at Grandy's, an old favorite of Debbie's when she lived in Dallas back in the 80s.
It did not disappoint, especially with a heaping pile of fried okra and those amazing Grandy's rolls with honey.
Then we backtracked to Rite Aid ...
... to continue our futile search for Country Time Lemonade in cans and for Georgia Peach-flavored Coca-Cola in bottles.
What's this? California Raspberry-flavored Coca-Cola in bottles? Why not Georgia Peach-flavored? We're in Georgia! Come on! We bought a couple of bottles anyway.
We passed the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, but amazingly did not stop.
The sun was setting ...
... as we passed into South Carolina, which explains why this photo didn't turn out well.
Fortunately, the South Carolina gate photographed well enough.
We drove until well after 10:00, finally arriving at the Holiday Inn & Suites Columbia Airport.

We slept well after such an exciting day.

Day 10 >


Florida 2018: [Day 1: Murfreesboro] [Day 2: Merritt Island] [Day 3: Riviera Beach] [Day 4: Key Largo] [Day 5: Key Largo] [Day 6: Key West] [Day 7: Dry Tortugas] [Day 8: Orlando] [Day 9: Zero-G] [Day 10: Cincinnati]

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