While many people compare floating in a pool or a body of water to weightless in space, the experience is actually quite different. Nevertheless, outside of certain space training centers like those of NASA, floating is the closest thing we can achieve on earth to feeling weightless. Floating in a floatation tank is even more similar to floating in space, as the tanks are typically dark and soundless. The following are a few of the ways in which floating in space differs from a floatation tank or any other floating experience:
- Floating in space is free falling. Objects that are orbiting the earth, like the International Space Station, are actually in a constant state of free fall. However, they are falling in an airless environment, so there is no sound or feeling of rushing wind. Furthermore, the Space Station is traveling so fast that it simply ends up going around it, endlessly, without ever reaching the surface.
In an effort to simulate this feeling, many people try skydiving, and some space program methods involve putting astronauts in a controlled free fall in a wind-free environment. While some claim that being in space feels like falling endlessly, others say once you orient yourself, it is not frightening or stressful in the least.
- Floating in space is disorienting. For your entire time on earth, you will know the pull of gravity. Even when floating weightless in water, you cannot forget the sense of up and down. In space, on the other hand, there is no up or down. Down is simply wherever your feet happen to be pointing, and the words “up” and “down” lose much of their meaning.
This complete lack of a force pulling you in any direction, or pulling on anything around you, can be highly disorienting for many first time astronauts. Many astronauts report dizziness, nausea, and sometimes a sense of panic as their bodies tell them that they are falling, and their minds fight to convince them to relax and accept the situation.
- When floating in water, you are always touching water. Even if you are wearing a dry suit, floating in water still requires that you feel the weight and pressure of water all around you at all times. On the space station, there is nothing around you but air. There is no pressure of anything but your clothes against your skin, and nothing inhibiting your movements. When underwater, one’s every movement is slowed by water resistance, while space doesn’t even offer air resistance except on shuttles and space stations. However, floating in water or a floatation tank will not cause the same disorientation as floating in space.
To learn more about floating in space, do some research and talk to experts or employees of space programs. To experience weightlessness on Earth, or to get as close as possible, consider a floatation tank from Northwest Float Center.