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AstroAccess to advance disability inclusion in space travel

In efforts to expand space travel beyond billionaire tech tycoons and hyper trained astronauts, AstroAccess is advancing Zero-G experiences to include the disabled.

As industries go, space travel is arguably one of the very least accessible out there. However, efforts are underway to change that.

Leading an inclusive space charge, a non-profit called Mission: AstroAccess has started organising Zero-G flight experiences for people with mobility or sensory disabilities.

On Sunday (October 17th), the company completed a parabolic flight – which alternates in upward and downward arcs to create a microgravity environment – 37,000 feet above Long Beach California, and 12 ambassadors with disabilities were on board.

Navigating the specially adapted shuttle, computer scientist Sina Bahram, who has been blind from a young age, now believes he’s closer to achieving his lifelong dream of becoming one of the first ‘parastronauts’ to reach outer space.

‘Even when you’re feeling completely out of control because everything you know about the world from your entire lifespan is no longer true, in terms of gravity, there was never a sense of uncertainty or danger,’ says Bahram.

Experience were vastly different for each ambassador, and their accounts will reportedly help to build accessibility-related guidelines for future missions.

Already, the likes of AstroAccess is making use of directional fabrics on walls to help those with visual impairments get their bearings, but it needed to run an experiment to discover other adjustments that will need making.

The AstroAccess flight wasn’t the first instance of someone with a disability experiencing Zero-G. If you’re old enough, you may recall Stephen Hawkins’ highly publicised voyage in 2007 in which he described the weightless feeling as ‘true freedom.’

Such instances, however, have been few are far between over the years, with space agencies like NASA requiring any trainee astronauts to demonstrate peak physical health and cognitive function.

Thankfully, a growing assortment of private space companies are now beginning to change the game. As the likes of Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin look for ways to take paying customers to the edge of space, adapting to accommodate disabled explorers has naturally jumped up the agenda.

SpaceX also recently flew a crew of four civilians to the International Space Station, one of which was Hayley Arceneaux, an inspiring cancer survivor with an internal prosthesis in her leg – something that would’ve scuppered any chance of flying with NASA.

As space travel becomes increasingly commercialised, which is all but guaranteed in the near future, it looks increasingly likely that private companies will lead the way in making the industry more inclusive. If a 90-year-old William Shatner can head into outer space, anyone can.

Speaking on the previous lack of opportunity, Barham concluded: ‘It’s one of these things where this level of ableism has been built into our society, and we need to understand that it is our environments that are disabling, not individuals that are disabled.’

 

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