updated 3/25/2005 10:53:35 PM ET 2005-03-26T03:53:35

In Sweden's far north, the freezing temperatures are so cold that some have likened it to the chill of outer space.

Now, tourists seeking to experience that can go one step farther — and beyond — by duplicating weightlessness aboard chartered flights that hurl their occupants around an airplane cabin, floating in zero-gravity conditions as if they were astronauts.

Late this summer, a company called Xero AB begins offering the first zero-gravity flights from Kiruna, 124 miles (200 kilometers) north of the Arctic Circle.

Mining space for tourist dollars isn't new. But besides Kiruna, the only other place in Europe where you can buy a zero-gravity ride is Moscow's Star City, where the Russian cosmonauts are trained. Last year, a Florida-based company called Zero Gravity began offering a similar service as well.

Here in Sweden's far north, the flights should give tourists another reason to visit besides Sami handicrafts and — depending on the season — the summer midnight sun, or dogsledding and a night in the famous sub-zero Ice Hotel.

Defying gravity
Xero AB, founded in 2002 by Walter Allvin, will offer a series of four flights, scheduled two or three times a year, with 12 passengers on each flight.

Passengers will have a chance to defy gravity about 15 times during the 90-minute trips. It's not the altitude of the flight that creates the weightless effect, however — the plane flies up to about 29,700 feet (9,000 meters), comparable to commercial aircraft. It's how the plane is flown — in parabolas, with stark climbs and dives that cause brief periods of weightlessness inside. It's similar to the training given to Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts aboard the planes they affectionately dub "vomit comets."

But unlike those austere and often spartan training flights, Xero AB wants its users to float through the cabin for fun.

"We have worked with three scenarios: two winter flights, a midnight-sun program and a fall program in October," Allvin said.

The flights will take place aboard a Russian-built Ilyushin 76MDK, used to train cosmonauts. The plane's interior will be lined with soft, inflatable padding.

The price of weightlessness
But the flights aren't cheap. A weekend package in Kiruna, including a zero-gravity ride, dinner with the pilots and technicians, a personalized DVD of the flight, and visits to local attractions like the Ice Hotel, goes for $9,615 or more, depending on amenities.

Xero AB's operations are based at Arena Arctica, an experimental flight facility at the Kiruna airport, 764 miles (1,230 kilometers) north of the capital, Stockholm. The program is carried out in cooperation with the Swedish Space Corp.'s Space Systems Division, the city of Kiruna and the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Moscow.

"We expect people from all over the world to share the Xero experience," Allvin said.

Allvin said he expects customers from three categories — luxury tourists, business groups holding conventions and meetings in Kiruna, and artists seeking new experiences for their work.

A Swedish dance theater will later this year start filming a "weightless" dance project onboard the Russian aircraft. The dance group, emc2, has dubbed its planned film "The Ballerina Lost in Space."

"It is definitely more than just a dream of flying," said Gun Lund, the troupe's choreographer. "The problem is not to rotate or go ahead with full speed — in a weightless situation the movements continue until they are stopped."

Seeking the extreme
Allvin, 37, has made a career of seeking the extreme, and bringing tourists to it.

He started as a guide in the mountainous Lapland in 1991. He also heads Research Tourism AB, which takes visitors to different scientific institutions in the Kiruna area, such as the Swedish Institute of Space Physics and Eiscat Scientific Association, which carry out basic research and observations on space physics through ground-based and satellite observations.

He also leads tour groups to Esrange, an international center for research on space that launches rockets and high-altitude balloons for the European Space Agency, NASA and corporate clients.

During the last couple of years, the experimental work at Kiruna's airport has increased dramatically. Among the users are NASA, which describes the airport and residents of the sparsely populated area as "the no-problem people." Other well-known clients include Airbus Industrie, the Swedish Armed Forces and helicopter manufacturers Augusta Bell and Westland.

Automakers Volvo AB and Jaguar use Kiruna for testing their latest models in harsh winter conditions.

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