Pardon My Vomit: Zero G Ettiquette In the Age Of Space Tourism

It’s a new era for space travel. And if there’s one thing that sets it apart from the previous one, it is the spirit of collaboration that exists between space agencies and between the public and private sector. And with commercial aerospace (aka. NewSpace) companies looking to provide everything from launch services to orbital and lunar tourism, a day is fast-approaching when ordinary people will be able to go into space.

Because of this, many aerospace companies are establishing safety and training programs for prospective clients. If civilians plan on going into space, they need to have the benefit of some basic astronaut training. In short, they will need to learn how to go safely conduct themselves in a zero-gravity environment, with everything from how to avoid blowing chunks to how to relieve oneself in a tidy fashion.

In recent years, companies like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Space Adventures, Golden Spike, and SpaceX have all expressed interest in making space accessible to tourists. The proposed ventures range from taking passengers on suborbital spaceflights – a la Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo – to trips into orbit (or the Moon) aboard a space capsule – a la Blue Origins’ New Shepard launch system.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo’s performing a glide flight. Credit: Virgin Galactic

And while these trips will not be cheap – Virgin Galactic estimates that a single seat aboard SpaceShipTwo will cost $250,000 – they absolutely have to be safe! Luckily, space agencies like NASA already have a very well-established and time-honored practice for training astronauts for zero-g. Perhaps the most famous involves flying them around in a Zero-Gravity Aircraft, colloquially known as the “Vomit Comet”.

This training program is really quite straightforward. After bringing astronaut trainees to an altitude of over 10,000 meters (32,000 feet), the plane begins flying in a parabolic arc. This consists of it climbing and falling, over and over, which causes the trainees to experience the feeling of weightlessness whenever the plane is falling. The name “vomit comet” (obviously) arises from the fact that passengers tend to lose their lunch in the process.

The Soviet-era space program also conducted weightlessness training, which Roscomos has continued since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since 1984, the European Space Agency (ESA) has also conducts parabolic flights using a specially-modified Airbus A300 B2 aircraft. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has done the same since it was founded in 1989, relying on the Falcon 20 twin-engine jet.

Given the fact that NASA has been sending astronauts into space for nearly 60 years, they have certainly accrued a lot of experience in dealing with the effects of weightlessness. Over the short-term, these include space adaptation syndrome (SAS), which is also known as “space sickness”. True to its name, the symptoms of SAS include nausea and vomiting, vertigo, headaches, lethargy, and an overall feeling of unease.

Hawking has experienced zero gravity before, when he flew on Zero Gravity Corp’s modified Boeing 727 in 2007. Credit: Jim Campbell/Aero-News Network

Roughly 45% of all people who have flown in space have suffered from space sickness. The duration of varies, but cases have never been shown to exceed 72 hours, after which the body adapts to the new environment. And with the benefit of training, which includes acclimating to what weightlessness feels like, both the onset and duration can be mitigated.

Beyond NASA and other space agencies, private companies have also offered reduced gravity training to private customers. In 2004, the Zero Gravity Corporation (Zero-G, based in Arlington, Virginia) became the first company in the US to offer parabolic flights using a converted Boeing 727. In 2008, the company was acquired by Space Adventures, another Virginia-based space tourism company.

Much like Virgin Galactic, Space Adventures began offering clients advance bookings for sub-orbital flights, and has since expanded their vision to include lunar spaceflights. As such, the Zero-G experience has become their training platform, allowing clients the ability to experience weightlessness before going into space. In addition, some of the 700 clients who have already booked tickets with Virgin Galactic have used this same training method to prepare.

Similarly, Virgin Galactic is taking steps to prepare its astronauts for the day when they begin making regular flights into sub-orbit. According to the company, this will consist of astronauts taking part in a three day pre-flight preparation program that will be conducted onsite at Spaceport America – Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight facility, located in New Mexico.

Aside from microgravity, their astronaut training will also emphasize how to function when experiencing macrogravity (i.e. multi-g forces), which occur during periods of acceleration. The training will also include medical check-ups, psychological evaluations, and other forms of pre-flight prepation – much in the same way that regular astronauts are prepared for their journey. As they state on their website:

“Pre-flight preparation will ensure that each astronaut is mentally and physically prepared to savor every second of the spaceflight. Basic emergency response training prescribed by our regulators will be at the forefront. Activities to aid familiarity with the spaceflight environment will follow a close second.”

Blue Origin, meanwhile, has also been addressing concerns with regards to its plan to start sending tourists into suborbit in their New Shepard system. After launching from their pad outside of El Paso, Texas, the rocket will fly customers to an altitude of 100 km (62 mi) above the Earth. During this phase, the passengers will experience 3 Gs of acceleration – i.e. three times what they are used to.

Once it reaches space, the capsule will then detach from the rocket. During this time, the passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness. Between the intense acceleration and the feeling of freefall, many have wondered if potential clients should be worried about space sickness. These questions have been addressed by former NASA astronaut Nicholas Patrick, who now serves as Blue Origin’s human integration architect.

During an interview with Geekwire in January of 2017, he indicated that they plan to provide barf bags for customers to tuck into their flight suits, just in case. This is similar to what astronauts do aboard the International Space Station (see video above) and during long-term spaceflights. When asked about what customers could do to prepare for space sickness, he also emphasized that some training would be provided:

“It’s a short flight, so we won’t be asking people to train for a year, the way NASA astronauts trained for a shuttle flight, or three years, the way they train for a long space station mission. We’re going to get this training down to a matter of days, or less. That’s because we don’t have very many tasks. You need to know how to get out of your seat gracefully, and back into your seat safely.

“We’ll teach you a few safety procedures, like how to use the fire extinguisher – and maybe how to use the communication system, although that will come naturally to many people. What we’ll probably spend some time on is training people how to enjoy it. What are they going to take with them and use up there? How are they going to play? How are they going to experiment? Not too much training, just enough to have fun.”

“Getting sick to your stomach can be a problem on zero-G airplane flights like NASA’s “Vomit Comet,” but motion sickness typically doesn’t come up until you’ve gone through several rounds of zero-G. Blue Origin’s suborbital space ride lasts only 11 minutes, with a single four-minute dose of weightlessness.”

Bezos also addressed these questions in early April during the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, where his company was showcasing the New Shepard crew capsule. Here too, audience members had questions about what passengers should do if they felt the need to vomit (among the other things) in space.

“They don’t throw up right away,” he said, referring to astronauts succumbing to space sickness. “We’re not going to worry about it… It takes about three hours before you start to throw up. It’s a delayed effect. And this journey takes ten or eleven minutes. So you’re going to be fine.”

On April 27th, during a special Q&A session of Twitch Science Week, Universe Today’s own Fraser Cain took part in a panel discussion about the future of space exploration. Among the panelists were and Ariane Cornell, the head of Astronaut Strategy and Sales for Blue Origin. When the subject of training and etiquette came up, she described the compact process Blue Origins intends to implement to prepare customers for their flight:

“[T]he day before flight is when we give you a full – intense, but very fun – day of training. So they are going to teach you all the crucial things that you need. So ingress, how do you get into the capsule, how do you buckle in. Egress, how do you get out of the seat, out of the hatch. We’re going to teach you some emergency procedures, because we want to make sure that you guys are prepared, and feel comfortable. We’re also going to teach you about zero-g etiquette, so then when we’re all up there and we’re doing our somersaults, you know… no Matrix scenes, no Kung Fu fighting – you gotta make sure that everybody gets to enjoy the flight.”

When asked (by Fraser) if people should skip breakfast, she replied:

“No. It’s the most important meal of the day. You’re going to want to have your energy and we’re pretty confident that you’re going to have a good ride and you’re not going to feel nauseous. It’s one parabola. And when we’ve seen people, for example, when they go on rides on NASA’s “Vomit Comet”… What we’ve seen from those types of parabolic flights is that people – if they get sick – its parabola six, seven, eight. It’s a delayed effect, really. We think that with that one parabola – four minutes – you’re going to enjoy every second of it.”

Another interesting issue was addressed during the 33rd Space Symposium was whether or not the New Shepard capsule would have “facilities”. When asked about this, Bezos was similarly optimistic. “Go to the bathroom in advance,” he said, to general laughter. “If you have to pee in 11 minutes, you got problems.” He did admit that with boarding, the entire experience could take up to 41 minutes, but that passengers should be able to wait that long (fingers crossed!)

But in the event of longer flights, bathroom etiquette will need to be an issue. After all, its not exactly easy to relieve oneself in an environment where all things – solid and liquid – float freely and therefore cannot simply be flushed away. Luckily, NASA and other space agencies have us covered there too. Aboard the ISS, where astronauts have to relieve themselves regularly, waste-disposal is handled by “zero-g toilets”.

Similar to what astronauts used aboard the Space Shuttle, a zero-g toilet involves an astronaut fastening themselves to the toilet seat. Rather than using water, the removal of waste is accomplished with a vacuum suction hole. Liquid waste is transferred to the Water Recovery System, where it is converted back into drinking water (that’s right, astronauts drink their own pee… sort of).

Solid waste is collected in individual bags that are stored in an aluminum container, which are then transferred to the docked spacecraft for disposal. Remember that scene in The Martian where Mark Watney collected his crew members solid waste to use as fertilizer? Well, its much the same. Poo in a bag, and then let someone remove it and deal with it once you get home.

When it comes to lunar tourism, space sickness and waste disposal will be a must. And when it comes to Elon Musk’s plan to start ferrying people to Mars in the coming decades – aboard his Interplanetary Transportation System – it will be an absolute must! It will certainly be interesting to see how those who intend to get into the lunar tourism biz, and those who want to colonize Mars, will go about addressing these needs.

In the meantime, keep your eyes on the horizon, keep your barf bags handy, and make sure your zero-g toilet has a tight seal!

Sources:

Golden Spike Still Needs Your Help to Get to the Moon


Last December the Golden Spike Company announced its plans to enable private-sector lunar exploration missions which would be feasible, profitable, and possible — even without government funding. Comprised of veteran space program executives, managers, and engineers, Golden Spike intends to stand on the shoulders of current space technology to develop lunar transportation systems that can be used by agencies and private interests worldwide to get humans back to the Moon… but they still need your help getting the word out.

“We’re running an Indiegogo campaign as an experiment in public outreach and interest in human lunar expeditions,” Golden Spike CEO and planetary scientist Alan Stern explained to Universe Today in an email.

Recently Golden Spike started a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo with the goal of raising $240,000 for international outreach (that’s a dollar for every mile to the Moon!) but, with only 16 10 days left in the campaign, only $9,400 $12,134 has been contributed.* While dollar-for-mile that’s still farther than any humans have traveled into space since Apollo, it’s unfortunately quite short of their goal.

CEO and famed planetary scientist Alan Stern blames himself.

“Simply put, we didn’t put the right people and resources on this Indiegogo campaign,” Stern wrote in an announcement on the Indiegogo site on April 9.

But despite the small amount of time remaining, he’s not giving up.

“We’re going to take advantage of the press of time left — just 16 days — to reach out to the broader public about people they can be a part of a historic new era of human lunar exploration,” Stern writes.

“To do that, you’ll be seeing Golden Spike in the press quite a bit more the next two weeks.”

And he’s asking for your continued help to not just contribute, but also to get the word out.

“Speak to friends and colleagues. Message on sites like Twitter and Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. Send emails. Heck, put up signs and hand out flyers! We’re in the final phases of this campaign, ask people to join in. Let them know why you joined. Tell them their participation will make a huge difference… If we do this right, we can succeed.”

While contributions to the Golden Spike campaign won’t be used to launch rockets or build Moon bases, they will be used to reach out to potential international partners and show them that people are indeed interested in getting people back to the Moon… proven by the fact that they’ll even put some of their own money into the venture.

Small donations, large donations… each contribution no matter the size shows that people will invest in a future of lunar exploration. Put some “skin in the game,” if you will.

Click here to contribute to the Golden Spike campaign. And even if you can’t contribute financially, help get the word out. Share this article, tell people about the campaign, let them know that our future on the Moon doesn’t have to rely on fickle government funding or be subject to catastrophic budget cuts.

We got there before, we can get there again. The Moon awaits.

“Make the point that 40-plus years of waiting for governments to do this for us showed that the people who want humans to explore the Moon have to take personal action if we want it.”

– Alan Stern, planetary scientist and Golden Spike Company CEO

Read more about the Golden Spike Company mission here.

PS: Be sure to email [email protected] when you donate to the campaign and let them know your name, city, and state, and who referred you to donate (in this case, Universe Today.) They’re giving prizes for the top US state, top country, and top referrals!

(*Article updated on April 15.)

Join the Golden Spike Video Contest

If you’ve been following Golden Spike Company, you know that the company is planning to launch commercial Lunar exploration missions by 2020.

Last month, Golden Spike announced their Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to help generate public interest in their mission. So far people from around the world have contributed to the Golden Spike Indiegogo campaign.

Today, Golden Spike has announced a video submission contest for their supporters. Keep reading to learn how you can participate!

The video competition is open to anyone who contributes to the Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign at: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/golden-spike-is-sending-nations-and-people-to-the-moon-join-in

To enter, simply submit your video on why you believe Lunar exploration is important. Golden Spike will accept entries for the first round of the competition until Friday, March 15. All appropriate videos will be uploaded to the Golden Spike Youtube Channel where the public can vote for their favorite via the comments section. The prize for the first round of videos is a lunar rover model (at left).

Email your video submission to: [email protected]

Learn more about Golden Spike Company at: www.goldenspikecompany.com

Lunar Exploration Company Offers the Public a Chance to Participate

Last December, when a private space exploration company named Golden Spike announced they are working to offer human expeditions to the Moon by 2020, they also said wanted to bring public along as an integral part of the company’s mission. Since their initial announcement, the Golden Spike team says they’ve been inundated with emails, letters and social media posts from people wanting to know how to take part, and how they could help speed the development of human lunar expeditions.

Today, The Golden Spike Company — which hopes to generate sustainable human lunar exploration with a series of commercial expeditions for nations, corporations, and individuals — began a 10-week Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to enable a “participatory exploration program.” This isn’t funding the building of rockets and spaceships directly, but does allow the public to help the company accelerate their efforts.

“The funds will enable us to launch our participatory exploration program, which is more than just the perks people get for making a donation,” said Golden Spike President and CEO Dr. Alan Stern in an email to Universe Today. “It involves apps, membership, media productions, and more, and that effort is intended to become self-sustaining after we jump-start it with Indiegogo.”

Stern said funds from the Indiegogo campaign will also be used for other activities in Golden Spike.

“We’re building a program that is about connecting people to lunar exploration,” he said, “and when we had people keep telling us they want to help fund us to help get us to the Moon, we’re really excited about that. But while our major funding will, of course come from sales and investment, this gives people a sense of participation too.”

The company is looking to raise $240,000 – a dollar for every mile from the Earth to the Moon.

“The drive aims to raise awareness about Golden Spike, accelerate Golden Spike’s plans for innovative public participation in its activities, and give the global community of space enthusiasts and the general public a chance to help fuel Golden Spike’s human Lunar exploration mission,” says the Golden Spike team on their Indiegogo page.

“We hope that this campaign and all the projects it enables will generate a degree of participation in space exploration that has never existed before” said Gerry Griffin, former Apollo Flight Director and the Chairman of Golden Spike’s Board of Directors.

Those participating in the crowdfunding campaign will become Golden Spike ‘insiders,’ with an Olympics Movement-style membership program for children and adults. “We want to make it possible for people to follow Golden Spike’s development and space missions just like people follow Hollywood, NASCAR, and professional sports,” said Stern.

Some of the perks of donating include receiving reconnaissance images of potential landing sites, having the chance to vote on where missions should land on the Moon, and having your name and a short message left on the Moon. Big donors would receive trips to launches of missions to the Moon.

But to get the Moon yourself via Golden Spike, you’ll have to foot the $1.5 billion price tag for a two-person lunar mission.

The Golden Spike Company was started by a group of former NASA engineers and spaceflight experts, looks to provide services such as vehicles, mission planning, mission ops, and crew training to create a reliable and affordable lunar exploration system that will be U.S. based

Stern said they will not build new hardware but adapt crew capsules already in development and use existing infrastructure and launchers. However, they are looking to developing their own lunar spacesuits and lunar landers.

Their tentative plan is to use a series of launches where the first launch sends a lunar lander to orbit the Moon and a second launch brings the crew, which will then dock with the lander and head to the Moon.

Stern said their costs per flight are not much higher than some recent robotic lunar missions that have been flown and they will offset their costs with spaceship naming rights, media rights, and other enticements. They already have companies involved, such as United Launch Alliance, Armadillo Aerospace, Masten Space Systems, and have brought several investors on board.

Golden Spike’s website

The Indiegogo page for Golden Spike

A proposed Golden Spike lunar lander on the Moon. Credit: Golden Spike Company
A proposed Golden Spike lunar lander on the Moon. Credit: Golden Spike Company

Golden Spike to Offer Commercial Human Missions to the Moon

A proposed Golden Spike lunar lander on the Moon. Credit: Golden Spike Company

A group of space experts, media figures and even politicians announced today a new commercial company to bring paying passengers to the Moon. The Golden Spike Company is looking to “implement and operate a human space transportation system at commercially successful price points,” the company says on their website, focusing “on generating a sustainable human lunar exploration business that generates profits through multiple high value revenue streams.”

Initial estimates for a ticket to the Moon and back with Golden Spike are a cool $1.5 billion. But they aren’t only focusing on individuals as paying customers, but also other space companies and even governmental entities.

The people behind Golden Spike include their CEO Alan Stern, Principal Investigator for the New Horizons mission to Pluto who is also involved with several other space-related ventures such as Uwingu, former Apollo flight director Gerry Griffin, former shuttle flight director Wayne Hale and politician Newt Gingrich, who touted the idea of building colonies on the Moon while he was a US presidential candidate.

Golden Spike’s video preview:

During an announcement at the National Press Club today — made on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 17, the last human exploration of the Moon — Griffin said that a group of like-minded individuals got together and concluded that time is ripe for such exploration that could be afforded by corporations, nations and individuals. Golden Spike looks to provide turn-key services such as vehicles, mission planning, mission ops, and crew training to create a reliable and affordable lunar exploration system that will be U.S. based

Stern said they will not build new hardware but adapt crew capsules already in development and use existing infrastructure and launchers. However, they are looking to developing their own lunar spacesuits and lunar landers.

Their tentative plan is to use a series of launches where the first launch sends a lunar lander to orbit the Moon and a second launch brings the crew, which will then dock with the lander and head to the Moon.

Stern said their costs per flight are not much higher than some recent robotic lunar missions that have been flown and they will offset their costs with spaceship naming rights, media rights, and other enticements, plus they hope to have several investors as backers.

They also want to bring public along as an integral part of the mission.

“We realize this is science fiction. We intend to make it science fact,” Stern was quoted as saying.

Reportedly, Golden Spike has conferred with NASA on their plans.

While there are already a number of skeptics about this new endeavor, others see it as a step forward.

“Conquering the space frontier requires leadership at NASA and a partnership between commercial companies and governments,” stated Commercial Space Fight President Michael Lopez-Alegria. “I’m thrilled to see the Golden Spike announcement, which harnesses space leaders with years of experience to launch an exciting new private space venture. In the last few years we’ve learned that commercial space, by speaking to the dreams and aspirations of people around the world, can create new excitement for space travel, bringing us ever closer to our shared goal of sustainably extending human activity beyond Earth.”

Other board members include new-space entrepreneur Esther Dyson and Taber McCallum, co-founder and CEO of Paragon Space Development Corporation. The list of advisers for the company former NASA engineer and author Homer Hickam, Bill Richardson, who has served as U.N. ambassador, energy secretary and the governor of New Mexico, space historian and author Andrew Chaikin, former NASA flight surgeon Jonathan Clark, Nancy Conrad who is founder of The Conrad Foundation and is the widow of Apollo 12 moonwalker Pete Conrad.

Golden Spike also lists United Launch Alliance, Armadillo Aerospace, Masten Space Systems and several other space-industry companies as being involved with this new endeavor.

Golden Spike was the name given to the ceremonial spike that joined the rails of the first transcontinental railroad across the United States in 1869, which opened up the Western frontier to new opportunities.

“We’re not just about America going back to the moon; we’re about American industry and American entrepreneurial spirit leading the rest of the world to an exciting era of human lunar exploration,” said Stern in a press release. “It’s the 21st century, we’re here to help countries, companies, and individuals extend their reach in space, and we think we’ll see an enthusiastic customer manifest developing.”

See the Golden Spike website

Sources: Thanks to Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) for live-Tweeting the press conference and to Doug Messier from Parabolic Arc for live blogging the event.