Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bungee jumpers and weightlessness

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, New South Wales
The problems of weightlessness are real and the solution as Dennis has told us, is to provide artificial gravity. Thats going to be essential for any orbiting colony or long space expedition. Living in zero gravity is difficult, dangerous to your health, and leaves you miserable. However none of that will stop people enjoying the weightlessness experience.
Across the Tasman our New Zealand cousins have the dubious honour of having invented bungee jumping (yes, I know South Pacific islanders had something similar but the Kiwis made it into a sport). I doubt jumping from a great height with a rubber band tied to your legs is good for your health but thousands have paid good money to experience the momentary terror of free fall.
We can duplicate weightlessness on Earth, our bungee jumper is accelerating downwards at 9.8 m/s/s and is in free fall until he comes to the end of the bungee cord. The only thing stopping him experiencing weightlessness is air resistance. Scientists have long used free fall to provide several seconds of micro-gravity (a more accurate term than weightlessness) for experiments by building drop towers.
Another way to provide micro-gravity is to fly an aircraft in parabolic curve, called a Kepler curve. For 30 seconds or so the aircraft is effectively in free fall and, as the passengers are protected from air resistance inside the craft, they can float around just as astronauts can do in space. NASA has been using this method to train astronauts for decades. Space sickness is an issue for the passengers , the NASA aircraft is called the “Vomit Comet”, but once thats out people generally enjoy the experience. At least thats what they tell me.
Now theres even companies offering weightlessness joyrides, such a Peter Diamandis's ZERO-G. Their latest venture is zero-gravity sport. Its apparently going to be a ball game to be called paraball. It will be shown on TV as a show called Space Champions, more information can be found here. These activities are to be expected , fun is part of being human, we will find new ways to enjoy the Space environment despite its very real dangers. Not doubt orbiting habitats will provide artificial gravity but you can bet they will also have micro-gravity sections for recreational purposes.