Experiencing low gravity for the first time is not for the faint of heart.
Space.com senior writer Tereza Pultarova can attest to this, having recently flown a special flight designed to simulate the moon’s lower gravity for scientific research and astronaut training. Pultarova experienced lunar gravity during what’s known as parabolic flight, during which an aircraft performs a series of steep climbs and dives that create short periods of reduced gravity or even zero gravity. The aviators and crew members of these flights are some of the best test pilots the world has to offer.
To share the experience, Space.com is releasing a brand new documentary “Walking on the Moon at 30,000 Feet! Space.com Trains Like an Astronaut on a Wild Ride.” The original film follows Tereza on her first lunar gravitational parabolic flight during which she was able to watch European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts test new technologies designed for the moon.
You can watch the documentary at Space.com first page or on ours Youtube channel starting at 11:00 AM ET (1500 GMT) on Wednesday (June 7). After the premiere, you can join our Q&A session with Tereza and European Space Agency Parabolic Flight Coordinator Neil Melville.
To find out more about the parabolic flight and the making of the film, Space.com spoke with Tereza about what it was like to experience lunar gravity and watch ESA astronauts train for the moon.
Related: Watch an astronaut test a ‘moon wheelbarrow’ in lunar gravity for the first time (exclusive video)
To know more: How is lunar gravity created on an airplane? Explains a veteran pilot in zero gravity
Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, scriptwriter and host for various television programs on Czech Public Service Television. She subsequently took a break from her career to pursue her studies and added a Master of Science from International Space University, France to her Bachelor of Journalism and Master of Cultural Anthropology from Charles University in Prague. She has worked as a reporter at Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a variety of publications including Live Science, Space.com, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite, and Space News, and served as science editor for the maternity cover at the ‘European Space Agency.
Space.com: What emotions did you feel in the days or weeks leading up to the flight? How about just before the flight as you were boarding the plane?
Teresa Pultarova: For me, emotions were extremely mixed from the first moment I received the offer to take part in the flight. First, it was excitement and gratitude and just “wow, I can’t believe this is happening.”
And then there was the terror.
The truth is, I suffered a lot from motion sickness as a child and still have a tendency to it. As if I don’t like traveling on London buses and rarely go on the upper deck. When I was a kid, both my sister and I were the notorious sick-bag kids who threw up on every school field trip. And knowing that parabolic flights are sometimes nicknamed “the puke comet,” I was really worried about how I was going to handle it.
Space.com: What surprised you most about experiencing lunar gravity and/or hypergravity?
Pultarova: Lunar gravity was awesome. I thought it would be like being in a bouncy castle or on a trampoline. But there’s this added quality of everything being slowed down by lunar gravity. So it felt like some sort of altered state of consciousness. For me, the biggest surprise was the intensity of the 2G phases [double Earth’s gravity] they were. You have 20 seconds of 2G before and after every half minute of low gravity, so there was plenty of that. I mean, jet pilots have to handle a lot more. How do they do it?
Space.com: Has the experience changed the way you think/feel about what astronauts feel during spaceflight, moonwalks/spacewalks, or reentry?
Pultarova: YES; it’s certainly nice to experience it with your own body, because you get a deeper understanding of all those challenges that spaceflight presents. Although what I found most difficult in this flight was the constant changes – 1D – 2D – moon G – 2D – 1D – and on and on, thirty times in just 2 hours. I wonder how I would feel if I just had a nice long shortened G-phase and two intense hypergravity phases at the beginning and at the end.
Space.com: What was your favorite moment of flying?
Pultarova: The first round of lunar G [moon gravity] the parables were magical. You will see it in the documentary. I was like a kindergarten kid. But I also loved the day before the flight when we were filming and interviewing and having this amazing access to all these amazing people. I’ve been working in science journalism for about 18 years now, reporting on the space for about 10, and what I love about this job is the access you get. It’s a huge privilege to be able to discuss the most cutting-edge things with the most important people. So discussing lunar exploration training with the European Space Agency’s chief astronaut trainer or sitting in the cockpit, talking to Europe’s oldest parabolic flight pilot, those were my ‘kid in the shop’ moments of candy”.
And on top of that, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet was one of our pilots and I got to do a short interview during the flight (just before the motion sickness kicked in; looking back on the interview, he had the potential to end up in the mistake of a century). And what’s more, the day of the flight was my 40th birthday. Almost too much good stuff… Oh, and I forgot: Just before the flight, I got a pep talk from Jean Francois Clervoy who was on one of the missions to fix the Hubble Space Telescope. Even if you will only see it in the second documentary we have prepared.
Space.com: What do you hope people get from watching your documentaries?
Pultarova: The first one, which you’ll see tomorrow, is mostly about my journey through experience. The second focuses on the scientific and research reasons behind the flight.
These flights are not for fun. The plane was filled with scientific experiments that will help humanity prepare for the challenges of lunar exploration. But the experience was just too rich to put in a video. We thought it would be too long so we decided to split it.
So overall, I hope people learn something from watching them and get a behind-the-scenes look at the kind of work that supports humanity’s greatest exploration effort. We’ll likely live with Artemis missions on the news pages for years to come, and these flights are part of the effort to make it all work.
And with projects like these, you always think that someone, somewhere, maybe will be intrigued or inspired and that maybe it will positively influence the course of their life and that they will have their own “kid in the candy store” moments because of it.
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