Status Report

Heather Smith’s NASA Free Falling Blog: Expert advice

By SpaceRef Editor
June 5, 2009
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I talked with my second weightlessness expert last night. By “expert,” I mean anyone who has flown in the reduced-gravity aircraft over and over again and continues to do so. Liz Warren is a NASA scientist – a physiologist, to be exact – and as part of her day job supports the coordination of life sciences experiments on the International Space Station. But Liz is so excited about things like NASA and spaceflight and students that she volunteers to mentor student and teacher teams that are flying experiments as part of the reduced-gravity project. She’s flown about eight times and has gotten sick every time. But, she said it’s worth it to experience the weightlessness and the opportunity to help others experience it too.

Since I’m kind of nervous about getting sick, I quizzed her more about this part. First, she wasn’t sick the entire time, and interestingly, she doesn’t get sick until towards the end. I thought that if I were to get sick it would be immediately, on the first parabola even, and then after you got used to it you might feel better. But in Liz’s experience, she was fine for the first 15-20 parabolas, but then her body has had enough and starts to let her know that. As strange as it may sound, I find that rather comforting. Because I expected to get sick early, the thought of being sick early and then having to stay on the plane and keep going over and over made me nervous. What if I was sick the entire time and it wasn’t enjoyable at all? But, knowing that I might be able to enjoy at least half of the parabolas calms my nerves just a bit.

Liz was a great help, telling things to think about before I go and to have a plan of what pictures I want – both to take with my own camera and to have taken of me – because it goes by fast and it’s easy to get caught up in the fun and the wonderment of it only to realize it’s almost over and you’ve not done everything you wanted to do. Good advice!

SpaceRef staff editor.