You want to experience the feeling of spaceflight, but you don’t have the 200 grand to fork over to Sir Richard. What to do?
As always in matters of semi-sane wish-fulfillment, Las Vegas can help. The Zero G Weightless Experience—available several times a year at McCarran International Airport—never leaves Earth’s atmosphere, but does let participants leave gravity behind.
Here’s how it works: Participants get into G-Force One, a specially modified Boeing 727 that takes off and a few minutes later levels off at about 24,000 feet. The plane then flies a parabola, ascending at a roughly 45-degree angle. At the top, participants are weightless for about 20 seconds, and are free to float about the cabin. After a dozen or more parabolas, including ones that simulate lunar (one-sixth Earth) and Martian (one-third Earth) gravity, the aircraft returns to Earth, where passengers enjoy a “Regravitation Celebration” and pick up photos and videos of their trip.
The Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G) was founded in 1993 by X PRIZE chairman Peter Diamandis, former NASA astronaut Byron K. Lichtenberg and NASA engineer Ray Cornise. It was nine years from concept to launch, and the choice of an initial launch site wasn’t taken lightly. Today ZERO-G has flights from airports in Miami, Cape Canaveral, New York, Chicago, San Jose and Los Angeles. One could argue that the Space Coast Regional Airport in Cape Canaveral would be the natural starting place for a space-related adventure. But Zero G chose Las Vegas for its first public flight in 2004. Why?
“Las Vegas is an international destination,” says Michelle Peters, Zero G’s director of research and education. “So as a company with an international customer base, it was a logical place to start. After all, Las Vegas is an exciting city, and we offer a uniquely exciting experience.”
According to Peters, several types of passengers take off on ZERO-G flights: researchers conducting experiments; teachers and students; medical investigators; film crews for movies and television shows (one of the reasons that Apollo 13’s space scenes look so realistic was that it was partially shot in a similar NASA vehicle); and people just looking for adventure.
That last group accounts for Las Vegas’ position as one of ZERO-G’s best markets, with six or seven flights a year leaving from McCarran. Las Vegas attracts plenty of people who can pay $4,950 for a ZERO-G flight. And loss-of-gravity might be the perfect perk for an increasingly jaded class of high-rollers. ZERO-G also hosts weightless weddings, and although they haven’t yet had an Elvis impersonator officiate, that’s one small step that might be taken in Vegas before too long.