OK Go's anti-gravity video a creative use of zero G flight
Posted February 12
OK Go is known for innovative music videos built around a meticulous planned continuous shot. The video released Thursday for “Upside Down and Inside Out” is no different. Born out of a microgravity flight the band’s frontman Damian Kulash, Jr. experienced from the Kennedy Space Center in November 2012, the video was shot inside an aircraft flying Kepler parabolas to produce brief moments of weightlessness, the same process used by NASA as well as Russian, French and Canadian space agencies in astronaut training and microgravity research.
Starting at an altitude of 10,000 feet, the aircraft climbs at a 45-degree angle at nearly full throttle. At about 30,000 feet, the pilot points the nose down and decelerates near the top of the parabolic arc. Everyone and everything in the aircraft begins to feel weightlessness as the aircraft assumes a ballistic trajectory. Pilots (there were 10 in total onboard the Ilyushin IL-76MDK aircraft used to film this video) then pitch the nose down and accelerate to complete the final 27 seconds of weightlessness. The nose is bought back up at the bottom of the parabola and occupants feel double the force of gravity before the process begins over again.
Each flight provided a single take consisting of eight consecutive 27-second periods weightlessness separated by 5 minutes. Those on camera stayed as still as possible during weighted periods, (you can see this at 0:46, 1:06, 1:27, 1:48, 2:09, 2:30, and 2:50 in the video) and those sections were removed from the resulting video.
The video was funded by Russian Airline S7 and features actresses (actually gymnasts) dressed as S7 stewardesses. Don't look for zero-gravity flights from S7 however. What you see in the video is a set built inside an Ilyushin IL-76MDK aircraft and designed to be hosed down after the messy finale in each take.
While OK Go conducts experiments on just how much fun you can have in microgravity, these parabola flights are also a place for real science. The video probably looks pretty familiar to some North Carolina students who have participated in NASA’s Reduced Gravity Education Flight program over the years.
Students and an advisor experience a week of flights aboard NASA’s modified McDonnell Douglas C-9B over the Gulf of Mexico. The aircraft is capable of simulating microgravity for periods of 23 seconds, Lunar (1/6 Earth’s) gravity for 30 seconds at a time, and Mars (1/3 Earth) for 40 seconds. Daily flights include 40-50 parabolas flown over a period of about three hours.
Most recently, students from the University of North Carolina Pembroke investigated how microgravity affects the Cori Cycle, the process of converting pyruvate into lactic acid to provide energy for muscles to perform during intense exercise.
“Our team really believed the Cori Cycle would slow down in microgravity,” said Candace Langston, who was majoring in Exercise and Sport Science at UNC Pembroke during the 2013 flights. “We were surprised the hypothesis was (the) opposite of the results,” Langston said. “We’re still unsure of why.” A UNC Pembroke team returned in 2014 to run the experiments again.
“Although the opportunity to test a science experiment in zero-g was incredible, the entire process of planning and preparing the investigation stretched my limits, in a good way, as a student and deepened my passion for science,” Langston added. Today she is a clinical exercise physiologist with Southeastern Health in Lumberton.
Other North Carolina students have taken advantage of the unique microgravity environment as well. Students from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics studied spinal elongation and its contribution to lower back pain felt by astronauts; students from North Carolina A&T studied particle cloud dispersion and suspension; University of North Carolina-Charlotte students studied how liquid diffuses; and Duke University students studied how bone and muscle cells respond.
You can book a microgravity flight for yourself through Zero G in the United States for $4,950 (plus tax and travel to Orlando) or the roomier IL-76MDK at the Cosmonaut Training center for $4,000 (not including travel to Russia.)
Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.