Monday, July 25, 2011

July 24 -- Sea Legs

Sailing into Flight Week

By Patti Wieser

Sunday was a free day. Some of us spent it relaxing with an activity that tested our motion sickness. We went sailing.
The Sunday sailors from the PPPL-NASA microgravity week are, from left, Bob Corell, Sophia Gershman, Tim Anderson, Joy Barnes-Johnson, Patti Wieser, and Andrew Zwicker. Darrell Williams also sailed. — Photo by Darrell Williams

Seven of us from the PPPL teams rented a boat at Clear Lake. We loaded it up with refreshments and sunscreen, and set sail. Green waves glistened in the sun and lapped the sides of the sailboat, and the gentle Gulf breezes gave us relief from the humid 95-degree weather. We left gray skies and distant storms behind. “Captain” Tim Anderson (a Princeton High School teacher on one of the PPPL teams) and his “crew” steered us out of the channel at Clear Lake and raised the sail when we reached Galveston Bay. The water was smooth, but the waves and the movement of the boat as it occasionally heeled over — leaning to one side because of wind — reminded me of what could be in store on the zero-G flight. The movement was different than that caused during parabolas (steep climbs, followed by descents), but motion sickness is motion sickness.   

My sea legs gave out about a half hour before returning to the dock. Maybe the Mexican brunch, with all those jalapeno peppers in the eggs, hadn’t been such a good idea.

Taking a spin

Two days earlier, NASA’s Javier Roque called me to the front of the room to test disorientation and motion sickness principles during the Aerospace Physiology Briefing for the zero-G flight teams. He had given us prevention tips. I wanted to keep my equilibrium during the parabolas.

I took a seat in a rotating chair and he began to spin me around. When the chair stopped, I was to bend down, touch my toes, bring myself up, and point to the candy machine at the back. I watched the faces — about 80 — swirl by. The ride was slow. I lost count of the spins and the chair stopped. I touched my toes (or at least my ankle area), sat up and pointed to the candy machine. I did OK. Javier said my hand wavered a little. For a few seconds after the chair stopped moving, I felt a mild sense of vertigo. Some other zero-G participants told me later I had nailed the exercise. I entered the weekend — and the sailing expedition — confident.

What’s a little seasickness? When I felt wobbly on the sailboat, I went below deck, rolled an icy water bottle over my forehead, and steadied myself on the bench.

I am now following all the dietary and rest recommendations meant to keep motion sickness at bay during the zero-G flight. The pre-flight meds should help, too.

My small plastic bags will be empty when we land Wednesday.

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