Came to the hangar just slightly early, feeling strangely not-nervous. They kept us occupied with several successive briefings, handed out the anti-motion-sickness drug cocktail, and got everyone suited up for the Moment Of Truth. Anyone in a flight suit is pretty much treated like a rock star down there. The truth hit me like a wave of Houston heat, more than it even had when I was loading the plane yesterday: this plane is going UP.
The C-9 plane is a modified DC-9 with the forward half of the seats taken out, and thick white foam padding installed in its place, all around the walls and floor. There are two large-ish LCD displays, one showing the number of parabolas completed, the other showing the downward acceleration in the aircraft's frame of reference (AKA "g-meter"). The rear half of the plane is mostly a normal DC-9, except for the lavatory, the exit and the overhead bins (which are a shelf with webbing straps all around) - there are seat pockets and tray tables, and some obligatory griping about the lack of an in-flight magazine.
So we boarded, grinning hugely all the while, sat down... and sat.. for about twenty-five minutes. One of the test directors eventually emerged from the cockpit, explained that there was an avionics problem (oh joy!) and led us off the plane again, to a chorus of "well those were the fastest parabolas ever, eh?" from the ground crew. Someone put on 2001: A Space Odyssey in the briefing room, and we hung out there for an hour and a half, until the test director came back and led us back out to the runway. The avionics business was a bit unsettling, but if NASA has three things in abundance, those are competence, perfectionism, and disposable earplugs. They really try to be extremely thorough with error checking, and they've made some colossal mistakes in the past, but unlike other large organizations they seem to learn from it.
Sat down again; the takeoff was just like any other jet takeoff, but without any stewardesses doing the seatbelt macarena. The plane flew south, out over the gulf; I set up the camcorder and neuro got the control laptop set up. Nothing else to do then but unshackle ourselves from gravity.
Every parabola has two slopes, of course: the upward haul, which approximates 2 gravities, and the pull-out, which is when
It took me three parabolas to learn how to handle it. There's not much time in free fall, nominally thirty seconds but truly more like twenty - my first flights had me dangling up around the ceiling, while the robot spun away. Then gravity reasserts itself quickly - as soon as you hear the cry, "Feet down, on the floor!", you have about three seconds to rein in the experiment and sit down; otherwise you are sitting right the fuck down with 100 pounds of space robot on your ankles. One of the test staff then strapped my feet down so I could stand up semi-normally. It was still fairly difficult - I accidentally hit the emergency stop twice, rebooting the machines on the robot, and we found some problems with our center of gravity and the actual amount of gravity on board that caused the robot to drift floorward or ceilingward excessively. In short, it didn't work all that well, and tonight is devoted to finding out why. We got through 25 parabolas in this way before the batteries were drained. After that, there was nothing to do but bounce around in freefall, and let my body melt into the floor on the 2-G pull-ups. (I experimented with some 2G crunches on one pull-up. I felt rather studly about this until I realized my shoulders were only making it half an inch off the floor.)
On the last parabola, I lost a purity point. (Perhaps a fractional purity point; they were filming us.) No-grav smoochies! I didn't get sick, or dizzy, even in a freefall somersault: the drugs dry out your mouth, but the preflight training isn't difficult and helps a lot. Still, there were quite a few victims on our flight.
Then lunar gravity, and much leaping across the entire damn airplane in a single bound; Mars gravity, where everyone-up-to-the-test-director hopped up and down and grinned like idiots; and a low slow sweep over the Gulf of Mexico homeward.
corivax and gfish fly tomorrow, and hopefully, tnarg42 on Thursday. Per aspera ad astra.