Where there is no gravity on earth
Can we create weightlessness on earth and turn off gravitation?
Many believe that NASA must have hidden its anti-gravity chambers somewhere. Unfortunately, you thought wrong: There is no place where you can simply turn off gravity at the push of a button. That is due to the nature of the matter, because "gravity" works between all masses in the universe. In everyday life, this can be seen in the fact that we are constantly being pulled towards the ground with our house, furniture and everything else. And also in orbit - where the space traveler feels no gravity - it works: the gravitational pull is only approximately compensated for in earth orbit because it orbits the earth with the spacecraft in free fall. You can (almost) completely escape gravity at most deep out in space, far beyond all planets and stars.
So far nobody has come up with a technical solution with which one could neutralize the pull of gravity. The feeling of weightlessness during parabolic flights in airplanes that fly in an ascending and descending arc is simulated as closely as possible. This has consequences: In the "Kotzbomber" many occupants feel really bad, and none of them feel any gravity in that brief moment in which the plane is moving freely downward again after the highest point of the flight curve. Astronauts train on such flights for their use in space (and by the way, Hollywood also produces recordings like the one of Tom Hanks floating around weightlessly in the film "Apollo 13"). Incidentally, you can feel a similar effect in the roller coaster as soon as you yourself - and the equally fast car in which you are sitting - speed towards the ground. Damian Pope from the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada describes the feeling, "The seat no longer presses against you, and you therefore don't feel any support: That's exactly how it would feel if you were suddenly - for whatever reason - floating in space with a roller coaster cart." .
The further course of the roller coaster ride illustrates how we feel gravity in everyday life: After the free fall of the track, we can suddenly experience a sharp increase in pressure on the seat. Or, "as we physicists would put it, the seat exerts a force on you - a 'normal force'," explains Pope. "More generally: Our everyday feeling of 'having weight' is precisely the impression of being supported by the floor or a roller coaster seat: by everything that exerts normal force on us."
Incidentally, the lack of terrestrial anti-gravity chambers is a good reason for space exploration. Because there is no way on earth to switch off gravitation, science chooses the path into space in order to experiment under conditions of weightlessness. The International Space Station - officially a US state-run company - is home to hundreds of projects that deal with everything from weightless viruses (which are more infectious) to crystals (which grow larger) to the human body (the one degrading recorded by bone density and visual acuity). Researchers hope to develop forms of medical therapy under the unusual conditions in space that can then be used on Earth.
If mankind ever ventures into the depths of space, better methods of manipulating gravity are urgently needed - at least in order to minimize the negative consequences of permanent deprivation of gravity on the human body. In the 16 years that have passed since the first module of the ISS was installed, NASA and its international partner companies have made significant progress: Targeted training equipment and special food keep astronauts quite fit. But that alone would not be enough for a crew that has been on the road for more than a year. In popular SciFi stories, a rotating, wheel-shaped space station always appears at this point (think of the classic "2001: A Space Odyssey"). The centripetal force of rotation would ensure that everything inside the station is pulled towards the outer wall, the floor of the station. In principle, the concept sounds conclusive - but in order to generate a force of gravity that approximates earthly gravity, one would have to construct a much, much larger vehicle than any spacecraft ever actually built. Until then, maybe we should just continue to enjoy the weightless conditions of space travel - after all, they allow impressive overhead kicks and wild yo-yo tricks.
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