March 12-18, 2019
The fantasy of floating through the air, weightless, is one that has been realized by only a few. Now, you can experience it for yourself. With a New York Times journalist, join one of the famous ZERO-G Experience® flights for a true weightless experience. You’ll also learn about the frontiers aeronautics and space scientists are seeking to conquer.
Stephen Hawking and Martha Stewart did it, and now you can, too: Fly in a special plane whose parabolic movements make you weightless for up to 30 seconds at a time. From your base in Houston, delve into the world of space exploration and aeronautics. Go behind the scenes of NASA with a V.I.P. experience at the Johnson Space Center. Trace highlights of the New Mexico Space Trail, which consists of 52 locations that are key to space-related research and development. See the massive radio telescope facility known as the Very Large Array and the ambitious Spaceport America headquarters. For those with a passion for space exploration, this is as real as it gets.
Kenneth Chang, a science writer for The New York Times since 2000, covers NASA, physics, dinosaurs, geology and archaeology. He has written about the planetary debate over Pluto, the robotic rovers crawling across Mars and a specially designed whiskey glass for imbibing while floating in space.
The New Mexico Space Trail
Arrive in Albuquerque, N.M., to begin exploring select sites on the New Mexico Space Trail, which highlights 52 places related to space research, exploration and development. After lunch in Albuquerque, head south to the Very Large Array of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. As you drive through the desert plains, watch as 27 massive radio telescopes seem to rise up out of the desert floor. The impression is surreal. Each antenna has a diameter of 82 feet, and the combination is the equivalent of an antenna 22 miles across. Learn about radio astronomy and the work performed here from a V.L.A. education officer as you walk among the dishes themselves. The giant telescope looks for supernova remnants, radio-emitting stars, black holes and other astronomical features in the Milky Way and other galaxies, and assembles precise images for scientists to interpret.
Continue south to the quirky town of Truth or Consequences, which sits on an underground reservoir of mineral-rich hot water. In 1950, the popular radio show “Truth or Consequences” offered national publicity to any town in America that would change its name to “Truth or Consequences.” The residents of Hot Springs voted to become that town and put themselves on the map. Check in to your hotel and enjoy its mineral hot springs. Come together this evening for a welcome reception and dinner.
Explore the town of T or C this morning, home to small shops, galleries and the Geronimo Springs Museum, whose exhibits cover Native American history and local lore.
The afternoon, visit Spaceport America, the world’s first spaceport built for purely commercial use. Tenants of Spaceport America include Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, UP Aerospace and EnergeticX. Learn about the history of Spaceport America and the ambitious plans for its future and tour its interactive exhibits. Those who wish to may try the G-Shock simulator, which recreates the rapid acceleration an astronaut would feel during flight. Continue to the Spaceport Operations Center to meet Spaceport America crewmembers. Return to Truth or Consequences for an evening of leisure.
Leave Truth or Consequences this morning and head toward the White Sands Missile Range. Established in response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the base was also a key location of the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb. It’s now used to develop and test technology for defense and space exploration. Visit the White Sands Missile Range Museum, which displays a variety of missiles and rockets and an outside Missile Park, and tells the story of the exploration that has taken place on the base over the years. Continue to the surreal White Sands National Monument, where dunes of gypsum have created an otherworldly landscape. Take a half-mile walk and absorb the scenery.
Later this afternoon, head into the cooler mountains of Cloudcroft, N.M. If the research schedule allows, visit a working observatory. Enjoy dinner tonight as a group.
Welcome to Space City
Descend from the mountains to Alamogordo and the New Mexico Museum of Space History. The museum began in 1976 as a hall of fame for astronauts and has evolved into a comprehensive survey of space exploration, which in many ways had its start here in the Tularosa Basin.
Continue to El Paso, Texas for a short flight to Houston. Arrive in Houston and check in to your hotel.
Zero Gravity Day
And now, the day you’ve been waiting for. Depart for the ZERO-G Experience® and have a light breakfast. A representative from the Zero Gravity Corporation will prepare you for your experience before the group departs for the aircraft.
The flight lasts from 90 to 100 minutes. Your plane, a modified Boeing 727, will make about 15 parabolas, each providing approximately 30 seconds of weightlessness. By the end of the flight you will have experienced a total of six to seven minutes of weightlessness or near-weightlessness — as close as it gets to flying. Feel what gravity is like on Mars (one-third of Earth’s gravity) and the moon (one-sixth of Earth’s gravity) and experience multiple zero-gravity episodes.
After the flight, enjoy a celebratory lunch and receive photos and a certificate proving you did it. If you prefer not to fly, you’ll still be issued a flight suit and can attend the preflight activities and the lunch. You can go out to the aircraft itself with the fliers, although not board the plane. While the fliers are in the plane, nonfliers will visit the Lone Star Flight Museum, an aerospace museum with hundreds of artifacts relating to the history of flight and dozens of historically important aircraft.
Return to the city center for a panel discussion led by your New York Times Journeys expert. You’ll be joined by experts in the field of space research, exploration and flight. Have dinner as a group.
Johnson Space Center
Depart for Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, nicknamed “Space City,” where NASA conducts much of its research, flight control and space flight training. The Space Center is also the home of NASA’s Mission Control, the base of communications for the International Space Station.
With a full day of V.I.P. access, take guided tours of the Johnson Space Center and of the Space Center Houston, the Smithsonian affiliate that acts as the gateway to the Space Center. Go behind the scenes at NASA, where highlights include the historic Mission Control center, the new Mission Control and astronaut training centers. Pause for lunch — with an astronaut. This casual event gives you the chance to hear stories from former astronauts. (subject to confirmation)
After lunch, continue your V.I.P. tour with a visit to a part of the Space Center that has only recently been made accessible, the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (subject to confirmation). Here, astronauts train underwater, a simulation of weightlessness in space. The central pool is over 40 feet deep and is large enough to house replicas of key space station components so astronauts can familiarize themselves with them. (Sorry, you can’t go in.) Learn about the challenges and rewards of operating such a delicate program
After your long day at the Space Center, unwind back in town with a celebratory farewell dinner.
Back to Earth
Depart for individual flights home out of Houston.
Sierra Grande Lodge
This elegant hotel reflects the historic area with rustic touches and offers private soaks in hot springs tubs. Please note: The hotel does not have an elevator.
The Lodge at Cloudcroft
Originally built in 1899 as lodging for loggers and rebuilt after a fire, this charming property maintains its historic flair, complete with a ghost rumored to wander the property.
One of the top hotels in the city, The Houstonian is a historic gem. Though it is in the heart of the city, it is set amid acres of woodlands and features a rustic but refined décor.