Cleared for Departure
For the first time in NASA's history, the agency has opened one of its most recognizable facilities for use by a civilian business. The landmark event is the result of a cooperative agreement between NASA and Florida-based aviation company Zero Gravity Corp. to evaluate the use of Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility for commercial purposes.
Image to right: A group of teachers wave and smile while walking in front of ZERO-G's Boeing 727 jet. ZERO-G is the first company to fly a plane from NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility. Credit: NASA
Zero Gravity Corp., known as ZERO-G, offers passengers "parabolic" flights inside a jet to simulate the free-floating microgravity of space flight. Parabolas are wave-shaped flight patterns that produce 25 seconds of relative weightlessness for flyers onboard. The company's flights usually depart from Ft. Lauderdale International Airport, but on the weekend of Nov. 5, NASA and ZERO-G partnered to give a special group of passengers the thrill of taking off and touching down at Kennedy in Florida.
"Today, we're flying a group of teachers aboard the Zero Gravity aircraft," former NASA astronaut Rick Searfoss said at the event. "One thing I can guarantee from their experience is lots and lots of smiles and giggles because this is the funnest thing you can imagine doing."
Image to left: ZERO-G's jet, called "G-Force One," takes off from the Shuttle Landing Facility runway at Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
NASA granted ZERO-G access to the runway through existing legislation called the Reimbursable Space Act Agreement. This contract allows the company the use of the NASA facility for four flights, provided ZERO-G pays for expenses like fuel, building rental and equipment use. This agreement gave ZERO-G permission to use Kennedy's Saturn V Center to brief the teachers and fly the company's Boeing 727 from the Shuttle Landing Facility.
ZERO-G approached NASA after the agency announced it was accepting proposals to use its buildings and equipment for business ventures. NASA issued the request to assess alternative uses for some of its facilities as the space shuttles approach retirement and the agency transitions to focus on missions to explore the moon and Mars. ZERO-G expressed interest in offering flights from Kennedy Space Center because of its state-of the-art facilities, history and unique atmosphere.
"It's an absolute honor to fly these teachers and do it from Kennedy Space Center," stated Noah McMahon, ZERO-G's chief marketing officer.
Kennedy Space Center Director Jim Kennedy expressed equal enthusiasm in welcoming ZERO-G to the center. "We're excited to have ZERO-G come to the Shuttle Landing Facility as the first demonstration project in this effort to broaden the facility's use," said Kennedy. "Their activities help share the experience of space flight with the general public -- especially those educators who are developing our next generation of explorers."
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center