Scientists who want to conduct research on Mars, the moon, and in space don't have to travel that far anymore.
A commercial company is offering researchers a chance to fly in a plane that simulates weightless and low-gravity environments like the moon, Mars, and Earth-orbit.
Zero Gravity Corporation (Zero-G) announced the new program, known as Zero-G Weightless Lab, on Thursday. The company already flies special airplanes in parabolic arcs to simulate microgravity experiences for paying passengers. Now they are offering Martian, lunar, and hyper gravity environments as well. The Zero-G Weightless Lab is open to academic, corporate and government agency customers.
Eric Anderson, President and CEO of Space Adventures/Zero-G said in a statement, "The Zero-G Weightless Lab provides open access for commercial and government entities to conduct research in a reduced gravity environment that is not only affordable, but available today. The microgravity laboratory is completely operational; no test flights, development effort, or outside investment is required."
The Zero-G Weightless Lab offers clients the opportunity to charter a section of the plane, rather than the entire plane, for the two-day program. The lab program includes a total of 25 parabolas, storage space and a containment unit for smaller research projects.
Richard Garriott, a space tourist who brokered his 2008 trip aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft through Space Adventures, endorsed the new program.
"The Zero-G Weightless Lab is a great first-step in space-based research," he said.
During his trip, Garriott traveled to the International Space Station and conducted research to test the effects of the weightless environment on things like protein crystals.
"My most prized on-orbit activity was the protein crystallization project," he said. "The results were just as we predicted and my team has flown another specimen to the ISS since my flight."
Research proposals will be reviewed by Zero-G's research staff and its airline partner, Amerijet International Cargo. The Federal Aviation Administration must issue approvals for the experiments, including a Test Readiness Review.
Past Zero-G client projects have included studies in biomedical and pharmaceutical research, fluid and fundamental physics, materials science, aerospace engineering, space exploration hardware and human space habitation.
Two Zero-G Weightless Lab flights have already been scheduled for July in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and September in Memphis, Tenn.