Translate
Translate this website into the following languages:



Close Tab
Donations
UC San Diego Health
menu iconMenu
search iconSearch

UCSD Physician Flies with Professor Stephen Hawking on Zero-Gravity Flight

 

May 03, 2007  |  

Up and Down: A Look Inside the Weightless Journey

When Professor Stephen Hawking, the world’s most renowned physicist and cosmologist decided to fly zero gravity, Erik Viirre, M.D., Ph.D., from UC San Diego Medical Center was invited along to assure a safe ride.

“It was a thrilling trip,” said Viirre, who specializes in diseases of the inner ear as Adjunct Associate Professor of Surgery/Otolaryngology and Cognitive Science at the UCSD School of Medicine. “While every moment felt spontaneous, the medical care was planned down to every detailevery breath and every heart beat was monitored.”

Hawking’s recent flight aboard a Zero Gravity Corporation plane was widely covered by the media, as the astrophysicist, who is confined to a wheelchair with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), was able to float free in a zero-gravity environment. His condition, also known as “Lou Gehrig's disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, often causing paralysis in the entire body.

Viirre and his team developed a desirable health profile and motion sickness program for Zero Gravity Corporation, and Viirre was asked to provide medical oversight of the trip. By controlling what a person eats before the flight, maintaining a cool ventilated cabin, prescribing a tested combination of oral medications, and timing the orientation of the body throughout the flight, more than 98% of passengers experience no nausea, said Viirre.

Though some refer to NASA’s plane as the ‘vomit comet,’ in truth, the vast majority of ‘Zero G’ passengers do not experience any motion sickness whatsoever,” said Viirre who serves as volunteer chief medical officer for Zero Gravity Corporation, the only US company to offer FAA-approved weightless flights for the general public. Weightlessness occurs when the plane enters 25-second plunges, called parabolas. “Every step is taken for passengers to experience an enjoyable flight,” he added.

On a test flight, Viirre and his team practiced cardiac life support drills while dropping two miles per minute. Using a stand-in patient, the team monitored the person’s vitals, and performed chest compressions to simulate an emergency situation.

When the flight day arrived, Viirre and 30 passengers enjoyed several periods of weightlessness during the two-hour flight over the Atlantic. When asked how the medical team knew Hawking was managing the flight, Viirre answered, “He was smiling and smiling. Instead of stopping at the one planned parabola, we did eight.”

Viirre, who also serves on the board of the San Diego Air and Space Museum, believes that the experience of weightlessness should be available to science teachers. He is currently involved in an initiative to help hundreds of school teachers access zero gravity flights at no cost. In fact, the Museum is working with Zero Gravity Corporation to present a teacher development program to San Diego educators, slated to take off later this year.

# # #

Media Contact: Jackie Carr, 543-6163, jcarr@ucsd.edu

 

 

 




Media Contact

Share This Article


Related News

2/22/2017
University of California San Diego School of Medicine researchers screened 10,000 colonies of bacteria found on the epidermis to determine how many had antimicrobial properties and at what rate these ...
2/17/2017
An international research team, led by principal investigator Elizabeth A. Winzeler, PhD, professor in the pediatric division of host-microbe systems and therapeutics at University of California San D ...
2/16/2017
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacterial scourge that is resistant to most common antibiotics and thus difficult to treat, particularly in children where it commonly causes co ...
2/15/2017
A team of 18 University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Moores Cancer Center researchers has developed a new tool to analyze an often overlooked aspect of cancer genetics — an alteratio ...



Follow Us

Our bimonthly newsletter delivers healthy lifestyle tips, patient stories and research discovery news. Subscribe: