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(3 of 3)

2 Plus 2=What? Now that Pilot Brett had the feel of it, we tried some experiments. With the plane refueled, we headed back to the acrobatic area. Brett's usual rear-seat man, ist Lieut. Arthur Brattkus, had prepared a mental-alertness test for me during our coffee break. On the back pages of a scratch pad he had written three elementary problems in arithmetic. These represented a mild foretaste of what a space pilot might have to do in the weightless state. Would my gravity-free brain be clear enough to solve them?

In the first parabola of the second series, I flipped over the thigh pad to tackle the first problem: multiply 13 by .9. The reaction was surprising. Squinting over the oxygen mask, I could not be sure whether there was a decimal point in the multiplier or just a speck in the paper. Irrationally, I felt hostile to Brattkus for not having been more careful. Just as irrationally, the decision I had to make (was it a decimal point or wasn't it?) seemed momentously important. I got off this dilemma by doing the multiplication, writing the answers for both possibilities. The problem for the next parabola was equally simple: divide 4.5 into 22. Determined to take a short cut and do it in my head, I goofed, gave the wrong answer: 5. The third parabola's problem (adding five numbers up to four digits) was no trouble. It was all probably a matter of getting used to the conditions and the job.

In his 31st and last parabolic curve of the morning, Brett approached Veteran Stallings' record of 43 seconds: he maintained a state of negligible gravity for 40 seconds, of which I would testify that 27 seconds were true zero gravity. As closely as Brett and I could figure, we had floated virtually weightless for seven minutes and in true zero gravity for five. From our two-man, 2½-hour survey, we could obviously not make even tentative assumptions about possibly grave long-term effects (over days, weeks or months) of weightlessness on the human circulatory and respiratory systems. But these suggestions emerged: a weightless man in space need not be witless if he has had time to recover from the probable dulling effect of massive g forces during blastoff; his reasoning powers should be unimpaired; he need be in little danger of injuring himself from muscular overshooting—neither of us overshot objects that we reached for, though we did our reaching gingerly.

As for the sensation, I felt buoyant to the point of exaltation. And not necessarily because of the novelty alone. To Stallings, after 38 hours, zero gravity is old hat, yet he still feels exhilarated by it, aptly calls it "like swimming without getting wet." Airman Brett got no such emotional lift, only a solid, 4-g satisfaction from a job well done. It depends on who you are.

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