What's the lesson to be learned in The Last Lecture from Randy's attempts to get onto the vomit comet?
Randy had always wanted to experience the condition of zero G. In fact, it had been a dream of his to float his since he was little. He never wanted to be an astronaut, but he did want to experience what it was like to float in space. He finally realized his dream when he was able to board the "vomit comet," the plane that NASA calls the Weightless Wonder in which people can experience the weightless feeling of being in space.
Randy's students at Carnegie Mellon were able to get permission to fly on the Weightless Wonder when they proposed a study about whether using the simulation of zero G on the ground could help astronauts to avoid nausea when they got into space. However, NASA did not allow Randy to fly with the students as an advisor. Finally, however, Randy petitioned NASA to fly as a journalist from the students' hometown, and NASA permitted him to do so.
He thoroughly enjoyed the experience, even though at the end of the 25-second floating experience, when gravity returned to the plane, the force was overwhelming and people were slammed down forcefully. The lesson that Randy took away from this experience was that he was able to experience his life's dream of floating four decades after first developing this dream. He writes that "it just proves that if you can find an opening, you can probably find a way to float through it" (page 34). In other words, persistence pays off, and if one is determined to achieve something, he or she will find a way to do it.
In the largest sense, there are two lessons that Randy directly mentions in connection with his efforts to experience the Vomit Comet. As he begins this part of his speech, he makes the point that "it’s important to have specific dreams. I did not dream of being an astronaut,...I just wanted the floating." He wasn't interested in experiencing all the astronaut training - he just wanted to experience zero gravity.
His other lesson illustrated through this particular experience is that "one of the themes that you’ll hear...is have something to bring to the table, right, because that will make you more welcome." Pausch demonstrated his commitment to being able to meet the requirements for participants in the competition to join his college students in the Vomit Comet. He resigned his position as the advisor and proved that he would be riding as a representative of the media, as allowed by the competition rules. When questioned about this ploy, he explained the value of the Vomit Comet experience for all members of the team working on the development of virtual reality and agreed that, as a media person accompanying the team, he would help to publicize the program. This persuaded the persons coordinating the program to allow him to experience weightlessness - the primary objective.