This obstructed many handicapped people’s access to space, despite assertions that impaired persons may make good astronauts in some situations.
Eric Ingram usually travels about in his wheelchair. The 31-year-old CEO of SCOUT Inc., a smart satellite components firm, was born with Freeman-Sheldon Syndrome, a rare ailment that impairs his joints and has prevented him from achieving his ambition of being an astronaut. He applied twice and was turned down both times.
On a special aircraft journey this week, though, he spun smoothly through the air, hitting nothing. He discovered that moving around was simpler in the simulated zero-gravity environment, since he required so few things to assist him.
On the journey, he discovered something even more surprising: he could stand up for the first time in his life while imitating lunar gravity, which is roughly one-sixth that of Earth’s.
He was one of 12 impaired passengers who swam through the air on a parabolic flight in Southern California last Sunday as part of an experiment to see how individuals with impairments fare in zero-gravity environments. Parabolic flights, which fly in alternating arcs within the Earth’s atmosphere, allow passengers to experience zero gravity on the upward arcs for repeated brief bursts and are a frequent element of astronaut training.
AstroAccess, a non-profit organisation dedicated to making spaceflight accessible to everybody, planned the mission. Despite the fact that over 600 individuals have flown to space since the commencement of human spaceflight in the 1960s, NASA and other space organisations have long limited the position of astronaut to a miniscule slice of mankind. The American government initially only recruited white, physically strong males to be astronauts, and even after broadening its criteria, the agency still only chose persons who satisfied particular physical prerequisites.
However, the emergence of private spaceflight, sponsored by billionaires and supported by government space organisations, is opening the door to a far larger and more varied pool of individuals travelling to the edge of space and beyond. And people with disabilities want to be included.
Participants in Sunday’s AstroAccess flight say that accessibility concerns must be addressed now, rather than later, because modifying equipment to be accessible would take more time and money.
Until October 2023, the Federal Aviation Administration is forbidden from developing safety requirements for private spaceflights. AstroAccess is an initiative that aims to influence the way government entities think about accessibility on spaceflights.
“It’s critical that we can get ahead of that regulatory process and prevent misunderstanding, a lack of information, or a lack of data from leading to inappropriate legislation that would preclude someone with a handicap from travelling on one of these journeys,” Mr. Ingram said.
The company also believes that having everything accessible from the start would spur new space advancements that benefit everyone, regardless of disabilities.
Another AstroAccess passenger, Sawyer Rosenstein, is happy to point out how the lightweight metal alloys used in his wheelchair are a consequence of NASA research. Mr. Rosenstein, 27, has been paralysed from the waist down since a middle school accident.
He also discovered that he was more flexible in zero gravity, where he could finally put his complete range of motion to the test. And the persistent ache he typically feels all throughout his body vanished during the journey, he claimed. He, like Mr. Ingram, could stand on his own. They both argued that their experiences indicate that zero gravity or decreased gravity may have therapeutic uses.
Ann Kapusta, AstroAccess’s mission and communications director, said the twelve participants in the trip had an approximately 90 percent success rate going back to their seats after 15 tests, 12 in zero gravity and two that matched lunar gravity.
AstroAccess performed these tests, which lasted 20 to 30 seconds each, to guarantee that persons with impairments can take a suborbital trip as Jeff Bezos did in July and securely get into their seats in the limited time before re-entry. This is standard training for suborbital flights, but not for orbital missions, which do not have the same time constraint prior to re-entry.
Some members of the crew were astonished by the flight’s smoothness, including Tim Bailey, executive director of Yuri’s Night, a nonprofit organisation focused on space education that supports AstroAccess. Initially, he expressed worry that persons with impairments were more vulnerable and would require more medical measures.