Thursday, November 4, 2010

X PRIZEr, Kacy Qua, Soars Weightless with James Cameron and Friends

Interested in what goes through one’s mind when anticipating a Zero-G flight?

Last month, AVATAR Director, James Cameron and several other entrepreneurs “went weightless” in a special Zero-G flight to raise money for the X PRIZE Foundation. Two seats were reserved for two very lucky X PRIZE staff members. To decide which employees were eligible, a “reverse raffle” was conducted. The names of all of the staff were placed into a hat and each day one or two names were drawn. Those unfortunate souls whose names were pulled from the hat were then OUT of the running (we’re not bitter – we SWEAR!). In the end, there were two left standing – Kacy Qua, X PRIZE Manager of Alliances and Leslie Surley, X PRIZE Senior Director of Sponsorship Services.

Follow Kacy as she walks us through a timeline of what it felt like when the X PRIZE Zero-G contest was first announced, to the winning moment when she learned she would be flying weightless with some of Hollywood’s biggest names, to actually being gravity free.

Take it away, Kacy…

Post Winning, Pre-Flight Stages

1. Relief – My desk is located directly across from the office where the Zero-G raffle door was held. Every day – throughout the entire month of September - I would watch as one to three names were removed from the door. This was my own personal reverse Russian Roulette. Although I BELIEVED, each day at elimination time, my heart DID beat a little bit faster…

2. Disbelief – I am the last (2nd to last) man (woman) standing (floating). I am going on a Zero-G Flight. With James Cameron. And Elon Musk. And Peter Diamandis. No big deal.

3. Appreciation – Wow, X PRIZE, you have really out done yourself this time. I feel very grateful.

4. Damage Control - How many ways can I ensure I don’t puke:

a. Take Dramamine and be tired – no way.

b. No alcohol the night before - on a Friday?! The sacrifices I make.

c. No orange juice or other acid drinks – no problem.

d. Eat very little that morning – um, I guess so.

e. Take prescription and be caffeinated – sure.

f. Avoid all of the crazy stunts I intend to engage in on the flight – backflips, front flips, ninja kicks, general plane domination…riiiiiiight.

5. Planning - How do I stake out enough space to do at least one back flip? Will I be the “crazy hippie” if I get into lotus pose? Will I have astronaut dreams? How should I wear my hair (gotta look good for those cameras!)?

6. Posturing - Is there a system for weeding out the other passengers most likely to puke, and

a. Finding a spot furthest away from them, and doing this without

b. Letting them know that I have classified them as a “puker”

7. Praying - Of course there is an occasional, “please don’t let us crash,” with a reflection of the irony that any other flight which consisted of the plane hurdling toward the earth at ultra-fast pace would be my worst nightmare, yet with this particular flight, it’s the goal.

Reactions to the News

As I began to tell others about my upcoming Zero-G flight, I discovered that there were three types of people who had specific reactions to my news –

1. Those who know exactly what Zero-G is and are jazzed/jealous about me going. They want me to take and bring back pictures, do backflips and give high fives.

2. Those who think I am going to space! (wow. Imagine? Le sigh.) I think this myth is propagated by the fact that anyone who knows me has heard me tell the great X PRIZE mythology of opening up private space. These people think I went on Virgin Galactic, into sub orbit.

3. Those who think this is dangerous/crazy and just don’t get it.

Amazingly, group number 2 is the largest. Even after I have explained that it is not a space flight (or “inner outer space” as it’s been described), people still didn’t really get it. While this is incredibly humorous, it has really highlighted the lack of general awareness about space technology and space accessibility to the general public.

Post Flight Reflections

Thank god I didn’t throw up. I didn’t even come close.

The thing that surprised me the most was the utter chaos of having no gravity. On the ground, you can walk. In a pool, you can swim. In Zero-Gravity, you need to touch a wall, floor, another person – anything solid- to move. That didn’t mean that we didn’t try to swim – it just meant that instead of moving in the direction we wanted to go, we were just kicking each other.

The coolest part of the flight was when we did the “Spiderman.” Essentially we started by lying on the ground on our bellies. As soon as we felt gravity go to zero, we climbed the wall and attempted to go up to the ceiling, and then back down the other side, while remaining attached to the wall. I got about halfway then just “fell” into a backward somersault down the middle.

When can I go back? I am looking forward to wearing my name tag right side up, since I have graduated from totally clueless first timer to super jazzed weightless pro.

Commercial flights in Coach Class just got even worse.

Thank you to Peter Diamandis, X PRIZE CEO and Chairman; Robert K. Weiss, X PRIZE President and Vice Chair; Heather Carter, X PRIZE Director of Human Resources; James Cameron, Director and Producer; Jim Gianopulos, X PRIZE Foundation Trustee and Chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment; and, of course, Zero-G!!