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Students gear up for ride in ‘Vomit Comet’




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Six months of hard work and a week at NASA's Johnson Space Center will culminate on Wednesday when the Carthage College Microgravity Team takes to the sky.

The team's five fliers will test groundbreaking fuel gauge technology aboard NASA's zero-gravity aircraft, G-Force One, aka "The Weightless Wonder."

This is a plane that creates periods of weightlessness for its passengers by repeatedly climbing and falling as it flies. It climbs to about 34,000 feet, then drops 10,000 feet before climbing again. The plane flies 30-32 of these parabolas, giving passengers about 25 seconds of weightlessness with every free fall.

"It's the ultimate roller coaster," said Carthage sophomore Danielle Weiland, of Kenosha, who will fly for the first time on Wednesday afternoon.

So how does one prepare for a ride on the ultimate coaster? How does one settle one's stomach in a plane once nicknamed the "Vomit Comet"? Students received tips during a mandatory anti-motion-sickness briefing at NASA's Johnson Space Center on Tuesday.

"You will be astounded at how quickly you acclimate to this new environment," said NASA's lead reduced-gravity flight test director Terry Lee. "The environment can cause discomfort, but we'll arm you with all the tips, how-to's and defense mechanisms to help you on this flight."

For example: Move slowly, and keep your head in line with your shoulders. Relax, give your body time to adjust, and focus on the research.

Fliers are offered the anti-nausea medication Scopolamine before flight. "It's a very effective medicine," Lee said.

NASA staff will also be on the plane to help any fliers who start to feel queasy.

"A lot of times, we can tell before you do," Lee said. Ninety percent of students do just fine.

Astronaut Clay Anderson offered his own tips to fliers before the anti-motion-sickness briefing. Anderson has spent 167 days in space, including five months on the International Space Station, but he's also vomited on the Weightless Wonder.

"The first time, I sat next to a gal who puked on the seventh parabola. Don't sit next to someone who pukes early," he joked.

But seriously: "It's not as bad as you think," he said. "We like to tell horror stories to make you nervous, but you're going to have a great time."

Do's and don'ts for a "No Kill Flight"

For those in the Reduced Gravity Office at NASA, a "No Kill Flight" is one in which all fliers keep their breakfast where it started. Here are some of the tips the students received:

— DO eat a normal meal about two hours before the flight.

— “DON'T go and have something special just to see if you can share it with the rest of us," joked RGO's Terry Lee.

— DO take the anti-motion-sickness medication.

— DO lie flat during the 1.8g periods when the plane is climbing.

— DON'T nod, move or shake your head. Instead, move your head with your shoulders, not your neck, as if you were wearing a neck brace.

— DO take the first parabola to get used to zero-g.

— DON'T look out the window. The horizon won't be where you think it should be.

— DO stay upright; do what you can to keep your feet toward the floor.

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