The zero gravity experience
Ibuckled my helmet and donned the white jerkin and black goggles- my sun protection gear. A few minutes later, I was on the road looking out for the familiar signs that would point me in the right direction: today I was going ‘Into the Deep' on a space exploration journey from the Anna Science Centre- Planetarium and I didn't want to be late.
As I entered the compound, I noted the large group of children being shepherded by a few hassled-looking adults. I soon found out that the kids, who were from the Kootapuli St. Joseph's Higher Secondary School in Tirunelveli, were to be my co-passengers on the ‘spacecraft' that would take us around the Universe.Exciting
The 80 students, who belonged to classes V to X, were split into two groups before entering the planetarium. The first group trouped into a movie hall set up to the left, where they were given 3D glasses. Sporting the glasses, the group stared intently at the white screen that would soon show them two back-to-back science fiction movies on dinosaurs and the science behind magic. When I took a picture of them, only a few laughed or squirmed self-consciously. The rest looked sombre despite the bright blue frames. I left as the lights went out and the faint murmurs drowned beneath the booming audio of the first film.
I joined the queue outside a door plastered with the words, ‘Into the Deep'. While the others watched dinosaurs run amok, we were going to visit the Sun, its planets, their moons, a few galaxies and the Universe in general. The excitement was palpable as we occupied pushback seats inside the semi-circular theatre with a central projector. While I surveyed the silvery white of the domed ceiling, my eardrums filled with the cacophony of the seats being pushed back and forth by the restless audience.
The man behind the projector was telling a bunch of boys that they were lucky. “You children are getting an opportunity not many would get: you are all going to come on the newspaper soon,” he said pointing to me. While heads turned around, the cacophony continued unabated until one of the chairs snapped loudly. While the boy whose chair had been broken shot angry scowls at his friend behind, the other looked around furtively. He saw me looking at him and instantly sunk into the depths of his chair.
At that moment, a Tamil voiceover announced that we must get ready for the ‘take off'. Visuals took over the domed ceiling while the female voiceover gently guided us through the Solar system and its eight planets. Though I knew Pluto had been demoted from planetary status sometime back, I felt a peculiar loss because when I first encountered the solar system in my science textbook, Pluto was the smallest, coldest planet. I tried recalling in vain the song we were taught to remember the names and correct order of the planets.Illusion
The central projector revolved around itself spewing images onto the ceiling and walls, creating the illusion of floating around in zero gravity. We were narrowly missing contact with asteroids, comets and black holes, it seemed. In this way we passed through the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, learnt about nebulae, the birth and death of stars, starbursts or supernovas, sun storms and shooting stars and meteorites.
As if sensing the restlessness that was once again beginning to spread amidst the passengers, the voiceover lady announced the end of the journey and declared we had landed safely in Tiruchi.
In the middle of the afternoon, she wished us a good morning and thanked us for coming along. While I shuffled behind the boy who broke chairs, I heard a teacher calling out, “Wake up the kids who have fallen asleep.”