Billionaires are launching themselves into space at an unprecedented rate. And while four civilians embarked on the Inspiration4 mission for charity, it leaves the common man wondering how they can reach the stars, since they’re not made of money. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance you’ll never get to space, but you can get close by climbing aboard Zero G’s “Vomit Comet.”
The Vomit Comet is the closest the average Joe can get to experiencing space
I worded the title rather specifically, because onboard the Vomit Comet, you’re not actually going to space. In fact, you only reach an altitude of 32,000 ft, whereas space is considered to be 62 miles up (in comparison, you’d only go six miles high on the Vomit Comet). If it makes you feel better, Richard Branson didn’t technically make it to space either. And for $7,500, you are experiencing true weightlessness in the form of a free fall.
This is going to require some physics, but bear with me as I attempt to explain it in simpler terms. Rather than flying in a linear path, as most airliners do, the airplane flies on a parabola (which looks like a camel-hump). When the plane is pulling up, those inside experience 1.8 Gs. But as the plane dives back down, those inside the cabin begin to float, and experience weightlessness. In actuality, you’re just falling, but because you’re falling slower than the plane, it feels like you’re floating.
Think of it like skydiving. Eventually, you hit a maximum speed, and it no longer feels like your falling (or accelerating if you want to get technical). The Vomit Comet provides that same feeling, though the name sounds more intimidating than it actually is.
The history of the Vomit Comet
Owned by the company Zero-G, the Vomit Comet is the only time you can experience weightlessness without actually going to space. The program was created by three men: Dr. Peter H. Diamandis (engineer and entrepreneur), Dr. Byron K. Lichtenberg (veteran astronaut), and Ray Cronise (NASA engineer) back in 2004. And in 2006, Zero-G became the first commercial company with access to the Kennedy Space Center runway, where the space shuttle landed.
It operates under the same FAA regulations that all other aircraft do, so this isn’t just a bunch of pilots gone mad. The plane used is a modified Boeing 727-200 that can handle taking passengers on parabolic flights. Some of the more notable passengers included Steven Hawking, Martha Stewart, and Buzz Aldrin, but anyone over the age of seven is able to take a ride.
How can you get on the Vomit Comet?
There are dozens of launch sites across the country, taking off from the Kennedy Space Center, Rochester New York, Los Vegas Nevada, Long Beach California, Washington DC, and more. And they’re in operation now, providing rapid Covid-19 tests for anyone who purchases a ticket. You can find a full schedule on the Zero-G website.
For $7,500, it’s the closest most of us will ever get to space. The next cheapest option is to go to an indoor skydiving park. But if you want to truly experience weightlessness like Richard Branson did, then you’ll want to hitch a ride on the Vomit Comet.