(Feb. 28, 2021, 10:10 a.m.) -- When the Mars Perseverance rover made its brilliantly executed February 18, 2021 Martian landing, scientists had confidence it wouldn't sink in unsupportive Martian soil or topple over in less-than-Earthly gravity, and they also had confidence they could drill into the Martian surface to collect unprecedented data. This was due in part to 2015 experiments conducted by a team of CalTech scientists aboard the nationally known Zero G aircraft.
Consumers floating in weightless wonder may not realize it, but the same plane freeing them from gravity also serves as a flying lab venue for scientific research.
Meet Jose Andrade, PhD, Cal Tech Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering; Chair of CalTech's Department of Mechanical and Civil Engineering and its Executive Officer. He's the fellow floating up at the ceiling in the photo below, captured during one of roughly two dozen parabolas performed by the Zero G aircraft that produced Mars-level reduced gravity and weightlessness for the scientists' experiments. (Photos below via GoZeroG.com)
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Since science is cumulative, LBREPORT.com publisher Bill Pearl sought to learn to what extent the scientists' 2015 data had relevance for the 2021 Perseverance Mars rover mission. To hear our conversation with Prof. Andrade (recorded Feb. 26, lightly edited), click here. (MP3, total 7:32).
And what about that photo of Prof. Andrade floating on the ceiling of the Zero G plane? Prof. Andrade told us:
Prof. Andrade: That was a lot of fun. That was one of the most fun things I've done. We had a [CalTech scientific] crew and we were on board of this Zero G flight and as you can imagine, you experience zero gravity which is something I had never experienced and that's a feeling that, it's incredible...It's a surreal experience. you know I cannot compare it with anything else I've ever experienced, not even flying or high velocity. Zero gravity is a very beautiful and unique experience.
To hear this in sound-clip form, click here
The Zero G firm has managed to enable scientific/school educational programs while simultaneously meeting burgeoning "space tourism" consumer demand. It maintains a robust program for scientific and educational flights that operate from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida while simultaneously offering weightless flights to consumers across the country ($6,700 per flier plus 5% tax.)
Zero G's 2021 national tour begins March 13, 2021 in Long Beach but that flight has been fully booked (24 fliers) for days; the company has added a March 27 LGB flight that may depend on how many additional fliers book seats. Other scheduled stops include Las Vegas, Seattle, Denver, Indianapolis, New York City, Ft. Lauderdale and the Kennedy Space Center.
This writer/reporter was aboard Zero G's Oct. 25, 2020 LGB flight and the experience was -- as for Dr. Andrade (using his word) "surreal" -- and (my words) incomparable, ethereal, physically gentle while sensually overwhelming. And we have both independently applied same descriptor: "beautiful."
For some the experience was transformational. One woman told us after the Oct. 2020 LB flight that she now intends to become an astronaut.
Perhaps she'll be among the crew of a future flight to Mars.
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