Space tourists came closer to having a one-stop shop as Space Adventures announced

its Jan. 1 purchase of Zero Gravity Corp., or Zero-G, which provides paying passengers brief periods of weightlessness during flights aboard a modified Boeing 727 aircraft known as G-Force One.

The acquisition cements Space Adventures’ control of Zero-G, in which it had been a substantial investor “for years,” according to Eric Anderson, president and chief executive officer of Space Adventures. Anderson’s Vienna, Va.-based firm arranges, among other things, trips aboard Russian Soyuz vehicles to the international space station.

Space Adventures spokeswoman Stacey Tearne declined to discuss the price paid for Zero-G.

“Bringing the companies together allows us to provide a range of exclusive commercial spaceflight services from parabolic flights to orbital missions,” said Peter Diamandis, Zero-G’s chief executive officer. Diamandis, who also co-founded Space Adventures, will remain as Zero-G’s chief executive and becomes a managing director of Space Adventures. Byron Lichtenberg, former NASA astronaut, continues as Zero-G’s chief technology officer.

Robert Walker, the former U.S. congressman who serves on Zero-G’s board of directors, told Space News following the March 19 announcement that the deal represented “a merger of equals.”

“We felt the two companies would work extremely well together,” Walker said

. The merger “

combines up the ability to reach out to a segment of the population that wants to do interesting things in terms of vacation and adventure. And at the same time it puts Zero-G in the position to be able to take advantage of a lot of that activity. The combination of the two firms ought to work out very, very well.”

Zero-G’s basic commercial offering consists of

90-minute flights aboard

G-Force One during which the aircraft performs a series of parabolas that enable passengers to experience

martian gravity, lunar gravity and zero gravity. Zero-G has carried more than 5,000 customers on more than 175 flights since 2004.

The company

announced in March 2007 that it had entered into a deal to give U.S. gadget retailer the Sharper Image exclusive marketing rights to G-Force One

flights. In February, the Sharper Image filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and announced plans to shutter about half of its 187 stores while it reorganized. The San Francisco-based retailer, however, continues to offer Zero-G flights through its Web site

for $3,675.

In January, Zero-G

won a $4.7 million, one-year contract from NASA

to conduct parabolic flights aboard G-Force One to provide brief periods of weightlessness for agency experiments and personnel. The NASA contract

could be worth as much as $25.4 million if the agency exercises all four one-year options.

NASA plans to use the flights, departing primarily from the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, to conduct a variety of microgravity experiments and help prepare astronauts for flights on the space shuttle and





Zero-G submitted a bid for the flight contract last year after NASA said it was looking for alternatives to operating its own parabolic aircraft, as it has done for decades.

NASA recently

announced its potential interest in flying

scientists and their microgravity experiments aboard

commercial suborbital spacecraft of the sort under development by Virgin Galactic, PlanetSpace, XCOR Aerospace and others.

While G-Force One is not

a suborbital vehicle, it could be used by NASA to give scientists a chance to test their experiments in a zero-gravity environment before committing to more expensive suborbital spaceflights.

Meanwhile, NASA plans to continue

conducting parabolic microgravity flights aboard its own C-9 aircraft, at least for the time being. NASA spokeswoman Tabatha Thompson said in January the Zero-G flights were meant to complement NASA’s in-house capability.