Floating in zero gravity 32,000 feet above Newark Airport is something that a person who’s deathly afraid of heights and prone to motion sickness probably shouldn’t do.
And yet, I did it.
“I am not the daredevil girl,” I joked with Zero-G pilot Erich Domitrovits, feeling a combination of fear and excitement. “I’m the ‘taking selfies by the pool’ girl.”
Domitrovits, who pilots low-to-no gravitation flights on Zero-G’s specially modified Boeing 727 aircraft, reassured me I was in for the time of my life.
The space entertainment company took over 80 people into Earth’s troposphere — the lowest level of the stratosphere — between Sept. 12-18 at Newark. Each ticket cost $7,500. (I got a free spot.) All three flights available were sold out.
Passengers will be gravity-free for just under eight minutes — almost twice the time rich risk-takers Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson were during their escapes to space over the summer.
Before lift-off, Domitrovits explained to my group of 24 how he would be steering the plane in 15 parabolic arcs — aerobatic peaks similar to a roller coaster’s ascents and drops — at altitudes between 24,000 and 32,000 feet.
At the top of each arc, we would then plunge into a 30-degree nosedive, making us weightless for 30 seconds each time.
After our briefing, we strode toward G-Force One in our Zero-G astronaut jumpsuits — à la Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and their crew in “Armageddon.”
At first, the plane was eerily silent. It was as if a stifling grip of nervousness, excitement and suspense had us all by the throats.
We were each ticketed assigned seats in the rear one-fourth of the 30-foot aircraft, where rows of seat-belted chairs were installed. The rest of the plane — devoid of seats, overhead bins and bathrooms — was padded with white, impact-resistant mats.
I sat next to a married couple from Alabama who chose the weightless excursion to mark their seven-year wedding anniversary. They exchanged warm smiles and squeezed each other’s hands for comfort.
A row behind me was a mom of two from Florida who served as a public relations representative to astronauts like Buzz Aldrin. She and her pre-teen son and daughter quietly giggled with one another in anticipation of takeoff.
I, on the other hand, was sweating bullets and self-soothing by softly humming the chorus of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”: “Every little thing is gonna be alright.”
As the plane began taxi-ing down the runway, fight attendants Deb Houts, a retired physics teacher from Florida, and Art Scheuermann, a full-time engineer, led passengers through a flight safety demonstration, while a team of Zero-G coaches collected our shoes. (In addition to the flight suits, the company gave us each a pair of thick calf-high socks in order to avoid bumping into one another’s shoe bottoms or bare feet while floating).
Then, it was go-time.
Once the plane was in the air, a team of specially trained flight coaches instructed us to unbuckle our seat belts, spread out around the padded area of the cabin and lay down flat on our backs.
And everyone — from the youngest passenger, a boy no older than 7 years old, to the oldest, a sliver-haired man with a beard and bifocals — did so without making a peep.
No one wanted to miss a syllable of the flight coaches’ instructions.
“Pick a specific spot on the ceiling and look directly at it,” one coach instructed. “Turning your head or moving your eyes around too much can mess with your equilibrium and make you feel a little queasy.”
As a regular barf-bag grabber, I kept my eyes glued on the top-left corner of a ceiling pad and said a little prayer over my stomach.
But my silent supplication was abruptly interrupted by a sudden blanket of pressure that came over me as the plane began to ascend.
My flight mates and I futilely tried lifting our legs and arms as a force twice the amount of our individual body masses pinned us to the cushioned floor for an intense 10 seconds.
Then came a sudden lightness.
“Welcome to Mars,” a Zero-G coach said as my fellow passengers and I began lifting off of the ground, lightly bouncing around in conditions that mimicked the second-smallest planet’s low gravity pull.
“We’re about one-third of our normal body weights right now,” the coach added as us passengers gawked and gasped while we floated around one another.
“Feet down, coming out,” yelled the flight attendant after about 26 seconds, signaling to us passengers that it was time to lay down, stare at a point on the ceiling and wait for the next parabolic arc.
After touring a simulated Mars, we flipped, swam and summersaulted around the moon’s faint gravitational force — at about one-sixth our Earthly weights.
Then finally, we went totally weightless.
“Holy s—t,” laughed one passenger as she glided from one end of the cabin to the other in seconds. “I’m freakin’ Buzz Lightyear right now.”
The flight coaches tossed Skittles and sprayed water droplets up in the gravity-free space for us to catch in our mouths.
Feeling momentarily superior to gravity-laden Earthlings, I smugly caught a tiny green piece of candy while doing an open-air spiral flip.
We cruised through each of the three low-to-no gravity levels several times before the flight attendants ushered us back to our seats in preparation for landing. From takeoff to touchdown, the entire experience lasted a total of 90 minutes.
And I did get a little nauseous after our very last parabolic arc. But the airsickness didn’t diminish my free floating fun.
As the wheels of the plane screeched onto the runway, indicating our safe return to solid ground, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and accomplishment.
I immediately wanted to do it again.