A Spin Aboard The 'Vomit Comet'

It's a flying machine like nothing you've ever seen. A KC-135, also known as the reduced-gravity simulation aircraft, is used to get astronauts ready for weightless space travel.

NASA already had sold time on the plane to space contractors and researchers who need to conduct experiments in weightlessness. But for the first time, high school students are getting to fly in the craft too.

The Jaguars of LBJ High School in Austin, Texas, were one of the first groups of high school students ever to fly aboard the plane. CBS Field Anchor Jose Diaz-Balart joined them for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure and filed this report for CBS
This Morning.



It starts in a classroom in Houston. Easy enough for my high school pals. They are always in class. For me, it took some getting used to. We learn how the plane achieves weightlessness. It first flies nose up, then nose down. At the height of each climb—before the plane dives—those on board experience 25 seconds of zero gravity.

Those moments not only help humans prepare for life in space, but they help researchers learn a little more about animals. For instance, NASA found birds cannot fly in zero gravity.

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Eighty percent of passengers get sick during those moments of weightlessness. The brain and body can't cope with the shock of no gravity. That's why the plane is also known as the "vomit comet."

"Our advice: It's going to happen, so deal with it," says a NASA trainer. "You have one chance in a lifetime. You're not going to waste it. Getting sick is not going to stop you."

NASA requires training in a high-altitude chamber before boarding the flight. It's to prepare you for the effects of having no oxygen at 25,000 feet. NASA wants you to know what to expect if the cabin loses pressurization.

First, it's amusing light-headedness and euphoria. After three minutes, though, the symptoms get serious, and the senses, much duller.

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Each of the LBJ students will be conducting their own experiments aboard the plane. One experiment will look at the effect of gravity on magnetic fields. Another will look at blood pressure and other vital signs when experiencing zero gravity.

Once airborne, I took my first turn at zero gravity gingerly. While the students worked their experiments, I initiated my own serious journalistic experiments on cross-cabin spins, walking on the ceiling, throwing in space, and, of course, catching in space.

Inevitably, the "vomit comet" claimed several new victims. Those of us remaining attempted to perfect our techniques iweightless dancing. But I still need a little work on floating and chewing gum.

One tip: When you get your turn on this plane, don't forget that zero gravity lasts a short time. As for my time up in the air: It's the coolest thing I've ever done.

Reported by CBS Field Anchor Jose Diaz-Balart
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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