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HP took me on a zero-gravity flight to promote their space printer

The matter of the morning is vomit.

Who will vomit. Whether or now not to take Dramamine to save you vomit, and if that is so how a lot. Several folks recreation metal patches in the back of their ears — some other anti-motion illness, and thus anti-vomit, intervention. I've a bottle of prescription antiemetics in my bag.

There is a breakfast buffet consisting most commonly of carbs. Carbs are our pals, we’re instructed. Protein isn't our good friend and nor is grease. Protein and grease are laborious to digest. Protein and grease imply vomit.

We are sitting in a convention room in Palo Alto, at HP’s headquarters, and we're going for a experience in 0 gravity. Did that most of the people don't ever need to be freed from gravity? I stated sure right away, after all.

HP is the rationale you call to mind “inventing things in a garage” whilst you take into accounts Silicon Valley, as a result of that’s the place William Hewlett and David Packard based HP. (Steve Jobs used to be of the opinion that a wholesome HP used to be excellent for all the Valley, a Bloomberg tale notes, almost certainly because of this.) It is, most likely, the quintessential startup, person who went on to produce calculators, printers, and provides for information facilities. It additionally helped create Silicon Valley’s industry tradition: a casually dressed company run by way of engineers. But the corporate began sputtering within the 1990s, underneath CEO Carly Fiorina, by way of promoting an tools department and purchasing Compaq. These strikes tipped HP clear of innovation. Her substitute, Mark Hurd, targeted on minting cash relatively than making an investment in new concepts. The startup had, it gave the impression, reached heart age. Hurd used to be sooner or later changed by way of Meg Whitman.

In 2015, HP cut up: Hewlett Packard Enterprise would run information facilities, with Whitman because the CEO. HP would stay the printers and PCs; Dion Weisler, who had up to now led the printing and private programs crew, used to be named CEO. HPE used to be concept to be the sexier a part of the cut up, however HP has accomplished unusually neatly post-breakup. Last November, it posted its 5th instantly quarter of emerging gross sales. The corporate has minimize prices and began promoting new merchandise, even obtaining the printing arm of Samsung Electronics. But HP isn’t the full of life startup it used to be — and it isn’t precisely an arbiter of Silicon Valley tradition anymore, both. That could be why it’s so occupied with the ISS printer.

Annette Friskopp, HP’s head of area of expertise printing programs, in midair.
Photo: Al Powers / Zero Gravity Corporation

The factor about engineers is that almost all of them are obsessive about space. In a lot of circumstances, enthusiasm for space is what were given them all for engineering within the first position. Space is without doubt one of the toughest issues — if now not the toughest drawback — any engineer is most likely to come upon. The reason why is each easy and tough to design round: there’s no gravity. And should you’ve lived on Earth your whole lifestyles, it may be laborious to believe what it's to function with out gravity; a lot of items, together with printers, depend on gravity to paintings. (Most printers spit out further ink, which, in gravity, remains within the printer; in zero-g, it simply floats away. Plus, printers right here on Earth depend on gravity for loading paper.) Getting round the issue of gravity is an engineer’s shot at sci-fi glory. I flow this concept by way of Annette Friskopp, HP’s head of area of expertise printing programs, and he or she tells me considered one of her printer engineers has, in reality, constructed his personal observatory, for space object-observing functions. So if you wish to have to provoke an engineer, how do you do it? Microgravity is a lovely excellent get started.

On this high quality day, HP has accrued a handful of journalists in addition to a number of of its personal workers at its headquarters to promote — sure — a printer, the HP ENVY Zero-Gravity Printer, to be used on the International Space Station. (This gave the impression extra vital to the ISS than to HP, for the reason that ultimate time the ISS were given a new form of printer used to be 17 years in the past: an Epson 800 Inkjet.) At first, I misunderstood the invitation and concept I'd be witnessing a zero-g check of the printer. But in reality, the printer had already long past on its personal zero-g check flight with out us. Footage of this check exists, however I will be able to’t embed it right here as a result of NASA has restrictions on promotional use of its brand and the NASA brand is, after all, on the printer, which will likely be delivered to the ISS on a SpaceX rocket in a few months.

Essentially, I'm confronted with a corporate birthday celebration plus a logo activation. Fortunately, I'm ready to engage with the logo! And I've been given keep watch over of The Verge’s Instagram account, so there used to be unquestionably content material on the desk. Nothing says heart age like obligatory a laugh, however since I’m creeping towards heart age myself, I'm keen to take a laugh anyplace I will be able to in finding it.

In the hobby of complete disclosure: I've now not owned a printer for a minimum of 8 years, most likely longer. It’s now not transparent to me, totally, what wishes to be published on the space station, and although I ask a couple of folks on the tournament, nobody can rather inform me. Here’s what I do be told: maximum printers have glass in them, however the brand new HP printer for the ISS had to have its glass got rid of as a result of if the glass have been to shatter, it’d be a danger in zero-g. This printer wishes to simply paintings as it’s a lot more difficult to do anything else in zero-g and you'll be able to’t be fidgeting with an app to use it. One button press, please!

But what are the astronauts printing? I in my opinion have a minimum selection of issues to print: the occasional live performance price tag, bureaucracy I've to signal, go back labels. My landlord had to print me a reproduction of my rent, however now not even my tax bureaucracy come within the mail anymore. It’s all on-line.

Anyhow, I'm making an attempt to be kick back about printing and in addition concerning the antiemetics as a result of I don’t need to proportion. (I were given them for a concussion and the nurse instructed me it used to be the most productive prescription to fill as a result of they're additionally excellent for hangovers.) Everyone right here could be very great and trustworthy in an engineering approach, which is smart.

Enrique Lores, president of HP’s Printing and Imaging Solutions.
Photo: Al Powers / Zero Gravity Corporation

We’re instructed to keep hydrated sooner than the flight, and all over the en masse commute to the ladies’s room — the place heels and paintings apparel are swapped for leggings, shoes, and jumpsuits — folks start brazenly speculating about what number of toilet breaks we’ll be allocated during the day. When we go back, be-jumpsuited, the shows start. “We didn’t think it would be possible,” Enrique Lores, president of HP’s Printing and Imaging Solutions, says to the assembled crew, of designing the ISS-ready printer. People clap wildly; HP has a clapping tradition. The groups from HP which are going on the flight are presented to extra applause. Also presented are 3 winners of the guidelines contest — necessarily, HP had a name for submissions for concepts, and the winners went on this flight. Two of them are named Michael. The 3rd is Gunar. We clap for them, too.

Then we get to the true meat of the article. We’ll be flying offshore, in a army air space. The flight will happen between 35,000 and 19,000 toes, which might be commonplace heights for flying. The aircraft, a changed 727 with overhauled hydraulics and a padded internal, gets going as rapid as they are able to get it to move, someplace round 350 knots. Then, we can start the parabolas.

Zero-g flights paintings like this: the aircraft climbs very top. Then it bombs out of the sky and also you fall. That’s it! But then, to stay you from splattering since you didn't in truth depart Earth’s gravitational pull, the aircraft pulls out of its descent, and also you revel in gravity dashing again — to a most of one.eight Gs — because the aircraft begins some other climb. The first parabola is Martian gravity. The 2nd is lunar gravity. Then there's no gravity. The aircraft will climb and plummet about 15 occasions, for a general of possibly 8 mins unfastened from gravity’s clutches. This is lengthy sufficient to be a laugh and now not lengthy sufficient for muscle atrophy, a well known aspect impact of extended weightlessness.

We are requested if we've got questions. “I assume this plane can take, structurally, what we’re about to do,” says Michael Ainscow, of HP Supplies. (He is a 3rd Michael, now not one of the most two contest winners.) Yes, we're instructed, it might probably. And then it's time for a protection video. There are not any restrooms on board the aircraft — girls close to me groan — however there are 3 zones for us to hand around in whilst in zero-g: gold, silver and, weirdly, blue. Each is a huge field, demarcated with paint on the ground, and also you’re intended to keep on your crew field to stay chaos to a minimal. “Move gently so as not to hit your head,” the security video tells us. No leaping, and no swimming, please!

Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp, left, with Ash Jhaveri, SVP of industrial construction for Facebook.
Photo: Al Powers / Zero Gravity Corporation

We are then divided into our teams. I'm, most likely clearly, blue. Gold is HP professionals plus Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp and Ash Jhaveri, the senior vp of industrial construction for Facebook, for some reason why. Silver is the NASA printer staff, plus winners of an concepts contest, in conjunction with native media. Blue is a few different contributors of the media; Mark Thompson, the undertaking capitalist and writer, and several other contributors of HP’s PR staff. This is okay, in truth, as blue is located between gold and silver, and gives me with a first rate view of HP’s professionals in case any individual vomits.

The seats are all behind the plane, and we obediently strap ourselves in. The entrance three-quarters or so of the principle cabin are simply… padded. Padded flooring, partitions, and ceiling. We sit down within the chairs till we achieve a cruising altitude, at which level we're requested to take away our footwear and don our crew color-themed socks and move to the realm related to our crew. There, we lie on the ground and wait.

As we input Martian gravity, our first parabola, I understand my palms waft up. Have you ever thought of your palms? They don’t cling at your aspects for any reason why as opposed to gravity. I totally respect this for the primary time as gravity retreats and my palms start floating in entrance of me. The gold segment, I understand, resembles a soar fort: leaping, flailing limbs, delicate chaos. There is basic guffawing during the cabin. “Feet down, coming down,” a flight attendant hollers, and we're all flat on our backs once more whilst the aircraft starts its ascent.

Lunar gravity subsequent. This is how civilians reach Michael Jordan’s air time. The soar fort is rowdier. We come down and lie on our backs. It’s time.

I used to be born for this, clearly.
Photo: Al Powers / Zero Gravity Corporation

My palms and toes depart the ground first; neatly, after all. What I call to mind as being my frame plan is totally dependent on gravity. Without it, my limbs bob up. The sensation is kind of like being within the Dead Sea, too buoyant to really submerge your self within the salty water. Except there’s no water. I catch myself thrashing my toes — no swimming! I be expecting there to be one thing to kick in opposition to, however there isn’t, the kicking is unnecessary however my deficient dumb mammalian mind handiest actually understands this as swimming. Then the gravity returns. We pull 1.eight Gs on the way in which up, and it seems like an elephant could be very gently stepping on my frame with its monumental flat foot.

On some other parabola, I pull my legs in towards my chest with a little an excessive amount of power and in finding myself somersaulting towards the ceiling of the aircraft. On some other, we're herded by way of our crew captains into doing a cutesy Superman pose. In the gold segment, the CEO and a guy I presume to be some other HP exec — I will be able to’t rather inform who — push up into handstands. Anneliese Olson, the worldwide head of Home Printing Solutions, somersaults just about into the blue segment.

It is pandemonium within the cabin, particularly when the sweet is sent. We are warned handiest to devour the goodies we unlock ourselves; every other goodies, which may have flown up to now, might flow up from no matter crevasse they landed in handiest to idiot the unwary into consuming them. On our ultimate parabola, the water comes out. Our segment chief tosses some up me and it floats towards me — too low to catch in my mouth — like a cleaning soap bubble. I achieve out and contact it, and it divides into a number of smaller bubbles. When gravity after all returns, I’m damp.

I'm, I'm, I'm Superman, and I will be able to do anything else.
Photo: Al Powers / Zero Gravity Corporation

After the entire hubbub, the choices about Dramamine, the in most cases powerful dialog round puking, the barf baggage — finally that buildup, nobody has vomited. The flight attendant turns out joyous about this, although I'm upset. All this speak about barf within the first act and now not one unmarried puker! This is why folks learn fiction: actual lifestyles has no plot.

Anyway, one gravity-defying, pukeless experience later, we’re again on the airport. I forestall by way of the pilot’s cabin sooner than exiting the aircraft. The door has bumper stickers on it, like “i [heart] airplane noise” and “I froze my nuts off in Alaska,” with a squirrel subsequent to the textual content. Gareth Kelly, the pinnacle engineer on the NASA venture, asks if there’s any measurable information from our flight. (“He’s the data guy,” some other HP particular person explains right away after he asks.) No; it seems measurable information is for the analysis flights, now not for joyrides, like the only we took. We have been inside of two-hundredths of zero-g, with some diversifications as a result of airspeed, the pilot tells us. The flights are higher with a headwind, it seems that.

As I go out the plane I'm made to take part in some more or less picture rite the place my upside-down identify badge on my flight swimsuit is grew to become right-side-up. Some pictures of the HP staff are taken, and the following time I search for HP CEO Dion Weisler, he’s vanished. The remainder of us are loaded again onto the bus and pushed again to HP HQ, the place little space-themed reward baggage with HP Sprocket printers within wait for us. I bolt down some meals and depart.

Three days later, the pro photographer who went up with us sends us his photographs. There are a few nice pictures of me, which I ship to my folks. And all of sudden it clicks: the purpose of the logo activation. Because what's the Sprocket printer for? Photos.

Several days after sending my folks the pictures, I electronic mail them: did they print? No, my father tells me. Yes, my mom tells me, although she attempted to print all the picture and handiest were given the phase I'm in. (She didn't expose what printer she used.)

Was I activated by way of the logo? Yes. Did I engage with the logo? Also sure. Did I've a laugh? Definitely. Did any people print? I'm activated and engaged, however now not printing — although the pictures generated by way of the logo activation assured that my mom is. The logo activation labored!

In truth, I later uncover, my mother has that during not unusual with the astronauts aboard the ISS. Turns out, they've to print procedural and emergency data (go back stock trajectories, that more or less factor).

But what else do the astronauts like to print? Photographs from Earth.

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