Defying Gravity: A Student’s Zero-G Flight of a Lifetime

A young woman floats in zero gravity in a flight suit, holding a broomstick

Photo Credit: Steve Boxall / ZERO-G Corp

July 5, 2022 | Alana Altmann

If you ever wondered what it feels like to float in space, Iovine and Young Academy student Anna Shaposhnik has a pretty good idea. Shaposhnik embarked on a distinctively out-of-this-world journey this May when she was invited to participate in Aurelia Institute's first zero gravity (zero-g) research flight – the experience is the closest you can get to experiencing space on Earth.   

For Shaposhnik, the sensation of zero-g was “transcendent.”

“I like to say it feels like you are an air balloon,” she shared. “For those beautiful 21 seconds all your body's six axes feel frictionless and unimpeded. But don’t be deceived, it still takes effort to push off the walls. Your mass and mass of other objects matters!”

Shaposhnik was part of the inaugural cohort for Aurelia’s Institute’s first mission, Horizon 2022, which invited organizations dedicated to diversifying the space industry to fly. Through her affiliation with Zed Factor Fellowship, Shaposhnik was among 25 invited fliers to experience “twenty parabolas of microgravity, lunar gravity, Mars gravity, and hyper gravity.” [1]

A young woman floats in zero gravity in a flight suit, posing for camera
A woman in a flight-suit poses with a broom

Photo Credit: Steve Boxall / ZERO-G Corp

Aurelia’s zero-g mission was more than a parabolic thrill ride. Each flier contributed art, storytelling, or research projects that were uniquely inspired by the altered gravity environment. Shaposhnik contributed three original projects – Star Broom, PSSST™, and Orbi – under the umbrella theme of “Childhood Dreams.”

“Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to fly. I gobbled up stories about people transforming into birds, witches on brooms, and Hermes’ winged feet,” Shaposhnik recalls. “Star Broom felt like a very personal project reflecting my artistic voice, and also one to represent every single fellow geeky artist, character designer, cosplayer, and art nerd out there. Through it, I’m unapologetically myself and hold space for celebrating magical delight. I think it’s a beautiful contrast to see something like this in a highly technical area and I hope it encourages more artists to experiment with the future of fun in microgravity.”

While Star Broom harks back to childhood memories, Orbi is very much a product of Shaposhnik’s present. Born out of the Academy’s Designing Live Experiences class, Orbi (or Orbital Robotics Buddy Intelligence), is a physical metaverse buddy that guides visitors through Orb: Orbital Hotel Concept, which was an idea for a space hotel developed by Shaposhnik and her team. 

A young woman poses next to an illustrated robot that says "Hi! I"m Orbi"

“When we think about space, it’s hard to relate to its cold empty vastness,” says Shaposhnik. “Injecting personality through characters like Orbi I think is another way to have regular people get excited about it, just as Pixar's Wall-E pulled us into a silent robot’s story.”

The Aurelia Institute’s Horizon 2022 mission is to bring together diverse fliers, experiences, and perspectives on space. While there is a long history of zero gravity research, training and flights, these experiences have been typically out of reach for the non-research professional or private citizen. 

“The best part of the whole experience was the people I met and the range of ideas being explored. It gives me so much hope and excitement for more people to come and try this out,” Shaposhnik says.

According to Shaposhnik, the aerospace industry has a vested interest in attracting more STEAM students from diverse backgrounds.

“Astronaut Bernard Harris remarked recently that when the Baby Boomer generation retires, there still aren’t enough students to fill all the positions they would leave,” Shaposhnik explains. “At the same time, the commercial aerospace economy is now blossoming far beyond just the government and military of the Apollo era. We’re seeing not only an Earth-Space economy, but the emerging Space-Space economy.”

Two young people pose in flight suits with a USC pennant

Photo Credit: Steve Boxall / ZERO-G Corp

With this distinctive mission experience under her belt, Shaposhnik continues to work with another space collaboration. She has teamed up with Gas Stations In Space™ startup Orbit Fab – a startup providing space refueling stations. Again, through the Zed Fellowship, which she calls “one of the most important springboards” for her career, Shaposhnik initially secured an internship with Orbit Fab which soon led to a co-op job. She remarks that, as a rising sophomore, getting an internship in the space industry that encompasses art, communication, and engineering is an extraordinary opportunity, and the learning experience isn’t at all lost on her. 

Shaposhnik explains, “At IYA we are often told that our education is preparing us for job titles that don’t yet exist. I think at Orbit Fab, particularly as a startup environment, I’m beginning to see that paradigm shift. While my title is 'Marketing Manager,' it’s not what that title traditionally meant ten or even five years ago, I’m directly interfacing with engineers to communicate our architectural vision, or create 3D visualizations for future missions.”

There’s no doubt that this zero-g venture will impact her perspective as a student and an innovator going forward (as well as looking back). 

“Sometimes when a barrage of good things comes your way it’s easy to think of luck, but one of my mentors reframed that for me,” she notes. “At every step along the way I put in the hard work to be prepared. I’m always at the proverbial bus stop with my things packed when such opportunities come by, and this time in particular it was in great part thanks to two USC classes I was taking this spring semester.” 

Shaposhnik’s intention to take chances as they come is a reminder that the sky – or, in this case, space – isn’t even the limit. So, grab your personal broomstick equivalent and witness possibilities from new views. You never know when you'll get the chance to realize your childhood dreams.

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