On board the Airbus Zero-G, laboratory of microgravity

Let’s face it, on an airplane, we sometimes listen with a distracted ear to the safety instructions that precede take-off. But for this flight, the flight attendants have our full attention. We are on board the A310 Zero-G from Novespace, a subsidiary of the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), for its autumn campaign of parabolic flights.

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Sitting in the few rows of armchairs that remain at the back of the aircraft, the forty or so on-board scientists are already thinking about the tasks they will have to perform during the 31 short phases where the contents of the plane – material and human – will be in microgravity just as the astronauts on the International Space Station are all the time. The presentation ends with a reminder that the toilets are closed, no one wanting to see what we get rid of then float on the plane … “In the event of a recall by Mother Nature, high-tech equipment is at your disposal”, we hear. Irony of course because the equipment in question is a simple pocket adaptable to the anatomy of each and every one.

Immense surprise

After takeoff from Bordeaux-Mérignac airport, the plane heads towards the Atlantic and the researchers towards their experiments, installed in the center of the plane where everything is padded from floor to ceiling because, soon, there will be no will have, so to speak, no more bottom or top. The first roller coaster is approaching. The plane will pitch up to 45 ° and climb at full speed until it is “injected” into the dish where it will end in free fall, which will cancel out the gravity for 22 seconds.

Impression that the brain is squeezed into the bottom of its cranium and that the skeleton is compressed

Three pilots work in the cockpit, explains Christophe Mora, technical and operations director at Novespace and flight coordinator: “The first pilot manages the pitch axis, he’s the one who pulls up the plane and draws the parabolas. The second manages the roll axis, it keeps the aircraft flat, while taking care of navigation, radio and cabin announcements. The third pilot pushed the engines, he put full throttle to nose up then reduced the engines to idle. “

The announcement of ten seconds before parabola 0 sounds. Then comes the famous « 3, 2, 1 » The Airbus rears up. We may well know that we will undergo an acceleration of nearly 2 g and see our weight double during this phase, the surprise is immense. A feeling of being crushed, as if a huge sack of cement was falling over his shoulders. Everyone freezes during this phase of weightlessness, their eyes fixed on one point. Impression that the brain is squeezed into the bottom of its cranial box and that the skeleton is compressed. Raising your arm is an effort, the cell phone in your hand suddenly becomes heavy, the blue jumpsuit with the CNES logo is unraveling, as if drawn to the ground.

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On board the Airbus Zero-G, laboratory of microgravity