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How it really feels to be weightless

In 1999 I was supposed to take part in my first parabolic flight. During a parabolic flight, short phases of weightlessness are repeatedly achieved by a specific flight maneuver. The airbus, flying at 17000feet is hoicked until it reaches 49° nose up and then follows a parabolic trajectory until 47° nose down. One parabola takes approx. 2.5km and lasts 22 seconds.

Such flights are organized by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the European Space Agency (ESA) to prepare experiments for the International Space Station (ISS). The only qualified plane in Europe, the A310 Zero-G, is the former German Chancellor aircraft „Konrad Adenauer“, acquired by the French company NOVESPACE in 2015. Before 1989, the „Konrad Adenauer“ was “Airforce One” for the former GDR. Politically, a fairly sustainable development: First flying GDR’s officials, then the German Chancellor in the reunited Germany and now in use for European space research.

After I had been looking forward to my first parabolic flight for weeks, my participation – for what reasons ever – was canceled. A few days later I had a dream. In my dream I ran on a white surface and suddenly I was floating across the room with every step. A great feeling of lightness overwhelmed me. After I actually took part in a parabolic flight a year later, I realized that my dream was surprisingly authentic. Maybe our dreams are more than we imagine…

Since then I have participated in umpteen parabolic flights and my initial enthusiasm has gone. It is still an outstanding experience, but this feeling of uniqueness, of something that mankind has never, ever experienced before no longer exists. What fascinates me today, is observing people, who are experiencing weightlessness for the very first time. Mostly as test subjects in our experiments on brain performance: the expectation, the anticipation and then the expression on their face when the plane enters weightlessness in less than half a second. Terrific! Some go off like crazy, others experience the pure panic of free fall. Some remain calm and serene on the inside – and then can’t help but grin.

I am often asked how it feels to be weightless. But I have to fit here. Because there are no words for this experience. Being weightless is a physical experience that neither we nor our ancestors have ever experienced. Every living being has always been exposed to gravity. There is no synonym for this state of experience, nothing to compare it with. It’s a bit like your first orgasm. Do you remember your very first orgasm? Can you remember how you imagined how an orgasm would feel? Have you ever tried to describe what an orgasm feels like? It’s the same with weightlessness. If you have not experienced it yourself, you can’t describe it.

Some say, it is like driving over a hill quickly with a car – only much longer. Others say it’s like riding a roller coaster, „… like hanging at the highest point and knowing that you’re about to go down but your stomach will stay up.“ I personally like Dr. Jörg H. stating after his first parabola, still intoxicated by endorphins:

„It felt like my organs were being evacuated“.