Chapter 6 Summary

Getting to Zero G

Pausch believes having specific dreams is very important. While many of his classmates in elementary school wanted to become astronauts, Pausch knew he would never be an astronaut because he wore glasses. What he really wanted was the experience of floating.

NASA has a plane it uses to help astronauts acclimate to zero gravity. It is officially called The Weightless Wonder, though unofficially it is known as The Vomit Comet. Riding in the plane is like riding a runaway roller coaster, but it does give its passengers a feeling of weightlessness.

In 2001, Pausch’s dream became a potential reality when a group of Carnegie Mellon students submitted the winning proposal to conduct an experiment on the plane using virtual reality. The question the group wanted to answer was whether virtual reality dry runs on the ground would help eliminate or diminish the nausea caused by zero gravity in space, and they were invited to the space center in Houston to ride the plane and conduct their experiment. Unfortunately, the regulations strictly forbade faculty advisors from flying with their students. Pausch, however, was not deterred.

He did his research and discovered a way to fly: as a journalist from the students’ hometown. Immediately he resigned as his team’s faculty advisor and submitted an application to join them as a reporter. It was not a subtle move, but it was perfectly legal; he also made certain the program as well as their specific experiment were well publicized on the Internet and in mainstream media outlets.

The lesson is that people should always have something to offer because it will make them more welcome. Pausch had an amazing experience on the plane. He did not throw up, though he did get rather bruised and battered. The plane does parabolic arcs, and it is at the top of each arc that passengers experience twenty-five seconds of weightlessness. At the end of each of those twenty-five seconds, when gravity returns to the plane, it feels as if the body were twice its normal weight. This means passengers can slam down pretty hard at times—which is why they are always warned to keep their feet down.

Roughly four decades after floating became his dream, Pausch managed to get himself onto that plane. One of his life goals was accomplished. If a person can manage to find an opportunity and an opening, he can probably also find a way to “float” through it.