X-Prize, Zero-G, and James Cameron

IN THIS ISSUE WINTER 2010- 2011

An Amazing Story of Flying Zero-G with James Cameron
Author: Suzanne Nichols
Photographer: Zero G Foundation

Since late 2004, I have had an interest in the evolution of the X-Prize, the first of which was named Ansari and awarded to Paul Allen’s team for their experimental spaceplane, SpaceShipOne. So it came as no surprise when an email appeared in my Inbox from the X-Prize Foundation announcing that a seat on a ZeroG flight, co-hosted by James Cameron, would be auctioned off on eBay two weeks later. What was surprising was my response: I wanted to be on that flight! Telling no one about my intent, I began to apply my focus in all earnestness to that end.

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X-Prize, Zero-G, and James Cameron - An Amazing Story of Flying Zero-G Flight with James Cameron

The last time I saw Cameron’s film, Avatar, I was onboard the Alaska Marine Highway ferry and traveling to Petersberg to fish for salmon and halibut. It was my fifth time seeing the film, and the first time that I didn’t emotionally react to the Unobtainiumseeking Earthlings, or cry when HomeTree fell. What has been so compelling about this movie for me was that, at long last, I experienced images that beautifully and respectfully portrayed the nature of some of my most important, private experiences. The final scene in Avatar when Jake fully transfers his awareness to his Na’vi body was a profound expression of a personal truth: we are all enigmatic, transient beings, capable of inhabiting numerous forms and living in many worlds. It was and is for this portrayal that I remain deeply grateful to James Cameron, and it is why I was so compelled to be on the ZeroG flight with the man who made the film.

The final scene in Avatar when Jake fully transfers his awareness to his Na’vi body was a profound expression of my personal truth – that we are all enigmatic, transient beings, capable of inhabiting numerous forms and living in many worlds.

So I bid and won. That was on September 10th, with the ZeroG flight scheduled for October 9th. In the intervening weeks, I continued to do what I do nearly every day – enjoy and maintain my rural homestead of 90 acres, and take my goats for a walk in the forest. Over the summer I had brought the forest to them, gathering armloads of huckleberry, alder, elderberry, and maple at the end of my morning walk. But when Victoria, my Nubian doe, became seriously ill, I decided to let the herd roam the forest under my watchful eye, so that they could seek out what would nourish them most.

X-Prize, Zero-G, and James Cameron - An Amazing Story of Flying Zero-G Flight with James Cameron

Victoria withered away, in spite of all my efforts, and when she died, her three three-month-old kids came directly under my care. Chalisa-lu was the lone girl, Nutmeg and Cinnamon, two wethers. I had held them all at birth and named them shortly thereafter, even though most people advise not to name an animal destined to become food. Making a different decision – I chose to name and to love openly these beautiful beings right up until the end. But as that end approached, I struggled. How do I honor a life in the taking of it? What is cowardice? What is courage? Remembering the scenes from Avatar when Neytiri takes out the animals about to kill Jake, and how she teaches him to hunt, I pondered the so-called “noble savage.” What makes her noble? Once again, the goats became my teachers, my invitation to change, to grow, to humble and strengthen myself. On Monday, October 4th, after many poignant hours of contemplation and focus, I took the lives of Nutmeg and Cinnamon. They are now in the freezer, and eating has truly become a sacred act.

Four days later, wearing makeup and high heels, I flew to LA. My sister met me at the airport and we went to dinner at a tiny, chic, and fabulously expensive French restaurant where most of what was featured on the handwritten menu my husband and I actually catch or raise ourselves. Scallops were the exception, and therefore my choice, along with two glasses of red wine in spite of the instructions from the ZeroG crew not to drink alcohol the night before the “weightless experience.”

I then spoke to the magnitude of the world’s response to Avatar, and that I believed this had everything to do with the ways in which the movie portrayed the interconnectivity of all life.

Early the next morning one of my prayers was answered when I managed to get my un-gym, un-sculpted ass into the flight suit I was given. Then, having taken the time to read the bios of the twenty-nine flight participants, I mixed and mingled, figuring out who was who. At some point, Peter Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the X-Prize Foundation called us to order and began his talk. He graciously thanked us for coming and for supporting the X-Prize Foundation’s endeavors, all of which are based upon the principle of motivating innovation through competition – let the private sector do what governmental bureaucracies can’t or won’t. For the purposes of pitching the ZeroG flight, Diamandis emphasized his conviction that we will, as a race, begin moving off planet within our own lifetimes. He perceived this was important because the challenges we face are likely too great to overcome and it would be unwise for us to have all of our eggs in one basket. Diamandis sees this is a magical time in which the exponential growth of technology will not only allow us to venture into space, but will allow us to do all kinds of things we have never before been able to do . . .

X-Prize, Zero-G, and James Cameron - An Amazing Story of Flying Zero-G Flight with James Cameron

James Cameron gave his talk next. With ease and grace, he wove together exploration, innovation, education, and planetary salvation. He challenged Diamandis’ summation of this time as “magical,” and called it instead “deeply schizophrenic.” For while we may be blessed with advancing technologies, so are we cursed with the looming threat of global climate change and its potentially devastating consequences upon the natural world and humanity at large. And while this seems to be a state of affairs from which Diamandis would have us simply escape and go somewhere else, Cameron’s talk was a call to action on all fronts. He explained that he had deliberately set Avatar on a distant and fictional planet so as to avoid the fingerpointing politicization of the film that would have occurred if it had been set on Earth. Yet, he said, make no mistake, Pandora’s plight is our own.

After his talk, Cameron agreed to take three questions. Immediately, my heart began to race as I recognized that this was my opportunity. After the first question was asked and answered, I raised my hand, and Cameron acknowledged me. I spoke eloquently and powerfully, thanking him first for all his great work and then explaining that long before Avatar, I had made a choice to live close to the land, off the grid, and as near to self-sufficient as I could get. I then spoke to the magnitude of the world’s response to Avatar, and that I believed this had everything to do with the ways in which the movie portrayed the interconnectivity of all life. Here, unexpectedly, Cameron interrupted me and told me that he could not have said better what I had just explained about why so many people were moved by the film. Our eyes met, and it was clear that we had made an authentic and mindful connection.

Clearly, the exploration of the invisible underlying possibilities of “interconnectedness” remains anathema to the primary agenda of technology-driven pursuits.

I pressed on, asking him if he thought there might be room for significant, rigorous, scientific inquiry into the nature of this invisible interconnectivity, and suggested that this might be a vital part of our approach to solving the many challenges that face our world.

He responded by acknowledging the vastness of what science does not yet understand about the nature of the human mind, and reiterated his commitment to strict scientific models and empirical evidence. He said that while he understood that many people had responded to Avatar for the reasons I had elucidated, for him this interconnectivity is not literal, but a metaphor. Had I had the chance to ask another question, I would have asked, a metaphor for what?

Cameron then deferred to Dr. Diamandis, asking if the X-Prize had done any research into ESP. Here the audience sniggered. Diamandis noted that a bit had been done, but clearly indicated that this is not their thing. Cameron wrapped it up by saying that perhaps the AI’s of the future would turn to the humans and say, “Why didn’t you pursue that ESP stuff – it’s for real!” Clearly, the exploration of the invisible underlying possibilities of “interconnectedness” remains anathema to the primary agenda of technology-driven pursuits.

X-Prize, Zero-G, and James Cameron - An Amazing Story of Flying Zero-G Flight with James Cameron

Next to take the floor was Dr. Erik Viirre, neurophysiologist with UC, San Diego. Before getting to his point (the dispensation of anti-motion discomfort medication), Dr. Viirre gave me a wink and a nod and reiterated from his perspective as a neuroscientist how little the scientific community yet knows about the full function of the human brain, its connection to what is commonly called “mind,” and their integral connection with our perception of reality.

While the experience of weightlessness attributable to parabolic flight is a unique experience, it pales in comparison to the rarefied experiences I have in lucid and deep states of consciousness.

At the end of the day, back in my hotel room alone, I was singularly and thankfully disillusioned. While the experience of weightlessness attributable to parabolic flight is a unique experience, it pales in comparison to the rarefied experiences I have in lucid and deep states of consciousness. More importantly, I realized that long held attitudes of mine had been shattered. “I see you” is not a metaphor for me, but a fledgling truth. I loved my night out on the town, and I loved coming home to my sweet life on my little farm. This morning I loved greeting the goats, the cows, the ducks, and the chickens, and the turkeys. I love living close to the land and listening to its hum. I love the harvest and its celebration. Most of all, I love the freedom of moving seamlessly through many worlds.

X-Prize, Zero-G, and James Cameron - An Amazing Story of Flying Zero-G Flight with James Cameron

Suzanne Nichols is a Renaissance woman of the modern era. She is a musician, educator, author, builder, farmer, and supporter of many worthy endeavors. As an aficionado of modern physics, particularly quantum physics and Everett’s many-worlds interpretation, she wrote and published both a quantum physics textbook for pre-teens, Science You-nified! A Middle School Curriculum in Physics and Physiology (Second Edition 2008), and a delightful character driven story for readers of all ages, The Life and Times of Schrodinger’s Cat: A Quantum Tale of Love and Entanglement (2007). She currently resides on her ‘off the power grid’ dream farm with her husband, two dogs and a cat, two cows, three goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and honey bees – how sweet it is.

To find out more, go to http://www.manyworldspress.com and http://www.dreamingfuturenow.com

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