The Portuguese Space Agency (Portugal Space) today opened registrations for the second edition of “Astronaut for a day”, which last year took 30 young people, including four students from Minho, on a parabolic flight where they could experience the zero gravity.
MINHO spoke to one of them, who is also an ambassador for this year’s initiative.
Ricardo Portela Martins, a resident of Cervães, Vila Verde, now 16, was one of 30 selected from around 500 candidates for the first edition. Passionate about space since he was a child, the student aims to become an aerospace engineer and saw the opportunity to take the parabolic flight as a unique opportunity.
“As soon as I learned about the initiative, I was immediately intrigued,” Ricardo said. “It’s extremely difficult to describe, you can’t understand it. I had high expectations but it exceeded everything I expected. We felt really free, it’s a different feeling of freedom, it was spectacular. We did different activities like seeing liquids float in zero gravity. We all got together and then we spun, then we threw balls, which always floated.”
Last year, the flight chartered by Portugal Space took place on an Airbus A310 plane, which simulated the weightlessness of space by taking off and free-falling maneuvers (parables) performed by the aircraft that allow passengers to float inside it in circles about 20 to 25 seconds.
The 30 young people selected were able to experience three different types of gravity: that of the Moon, that of Mars and zero.
“We started with an acclimatization process. First we did the parable of Mars, one parable, then there were two parables of the Moon, which is lighter, we hardly feel the body, and then another 13 parables in zero gravity. The plane climbs to about 45 degrees, at this moment we feel 2G, twice our weight, we are pulled down. Then the plane goes straight up, they turn off the engines, it goes straight down, and when we get to 45 degrees again, but down, we’re in zero gravity, either from Mars or from the Moon.”
Ricardo also reminds us that the selection process and interaction is part of the experience. This moment is divided into four phases, including the presentation video, text production, psychotechnical tests, physical tests, balance tests and even an interview with three panels of judges. “The whole selection process, in a way, is already preparing us for the future. There are four selection phases based on the actual astronaut process. I think it prepares us for the future as when we grow up we will be interviewed for jobs, even the final phase was with an interview,” she reflects.
For the young aspiring aerospace engineer, the best part of the selection process was the third, when he got to interact with other candidates. “We got really good at the races right away, while we could, we already talked, shared the experience and kept in touch with each other, asking how the other stages are going,” he recalls.
In the first edition there were 500 applications. According to Ricardo, this number has already been reached for this year, still in the pre-registration stage. The young man from Vilaverden is now tasked with sharing the adventure with other students and trying to attract other students.
“The aim of this project is the development of the region in Portugal. However, it is not just about being an astronaut, there are all the related areas, the astronaut does not go to the Moon alone, there are engineers, doctors, a whole surrounding area,” he said.
Now with the title of ambassador, Ricardo spreads the experience through lectures, social networks and the press and tries to debunk the idea that it is an inaccessible area or that it is only for those interested in science and technology, or even that it is for boys.
“Everyone should try it, because even if you don’t make it to the end, it’s a great experience,” he guarantees.
To register, applicants must visit the Zero-G Portugal website, fill out the form and send a video introducing the participant and their motivation of up to 45 seconds.