6th Student Parabolic Flight Campaign Day 3: which way is up?

The subjects wore a mask to block out visual cues
31 July 2003

Gravity provides a vital input to our sensory and balance systems. What happens when there is no gravity? Do we know which way is up? A team from the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, hopes to answer these questions during the second week of the Student Parabolic Flight Campaign in Bordeaux.

In their experiment, The Human Perception of the Long Body Axis, the students are investigating the effects of gravity on the human perception of the long body axis (the axis running from the head to the toes). A truly international team, consisting of one Canadian, one Irish and two Norwegians, they report here on their experience on board the 'Zero-G' A-300 Airbus:

No gravity input

Student Parabolic Flight Campaign
A strange feeling to float in weighlessness without visual input

The subjects were tested in-flight, as well as pre- and post-flight to be able to compare the results. Without gravity, the vital inputs to the human sensory and balance system are altered, leaving only the perception and tactile inputs to locate the vertical direction.

Total darkness

Six subjects were tested during the 31 parabolas of the first flight. The subjects wore a mask and were in total darkness during the weightless periods. They aligned two lines inside the mask in two different vertical planes. The results were promising and we are very optimistic.

Since the subjects are in total darkness, it was expected that some of them would get sick. Instead they really enjoyed it, and said it was a really strange feeling to float in weightlessness without visual input. Some even floated from vertical to horizontal position without noticing it.

An unforgettable experience

Student Parabolic Flight Campaign
Preparing for a five-parabola familiarisation flight

Besides the experimental results we collected, we also experienced something we will never forget: free-floating inside the 'Zero-G' plane.

It was a really strange sensation floating just under the ceiling, looking down at the floor, and not falling down. It was quite unlike anything we have learnt or experienced before in our lives.

If we weren't careful and stopped paying attention, we suddenly didn't know where we were and lost all idea of what was up and what was down.

( Tonje Nanette Arnesen and Morten Hannevik Olsen, Group 1023 – France - ISUNIC)

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