By Claire Cameron
Ariel Ekblaw remembers the moment when her future crystallized. She was 18, floating upside-down inside the hollowed-out hull of an airplane, more than 30,000 feet in the air.
At the time an undergrad at Yale University, Ekblaw’s brief moment of reduced-gravity flight came courtesy of a now-defunct NASA program that let students ride the fabled “vomit comet,” as astronauts dubbed it after these unique plane trips started being used for zero-G training back in the 1970s. The pilot steers the plane along a steep parabolic arc, granting passengers a few moments of life beyond the clutches of Earth’s gravity. Skilled pilots can tweak the trajectory to simulate the Moon’s gravity, or even that of Mars or Europa.