AstroAccess announces Ambassadors and flight crew for Next Weightless Flight
Flight to occur in Houston, Texas on 50th anniversary of Apollo 17 mission
September 21, 2022 – AstroAccess, an organization dedicated to promoting disability inclusion in space exploration, announced its second cohort of Disabled Ambassadors who will fly on AA2, the second AstroAccess parabolic flight with Zero Gravity Corporation. The flight will take place in Houston, TX on December 14, 2022, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 17 lunar liftoff, the last time humans were on the Moon.
AstroAccess is inspired by the history-defining work of the Apollo Program. The team is excited to have the next flight take place in the city of Houston with the opportunity to contribute to the city’s rich history of human spaceflight by reimagining accessible spaceflight design and redefining who can be an astronaut. The AA2 flight will continue the important accessibility research that was conducted on the inaugural AstroAccess flight in October of 2021, as well as work on two additional parabolic flights conducted by MIT and the Aurelia Institute, which flew AstroAccess Ambassadors in May of this year.
The AstroAccess AA2 flight crew is a mix of four returning flyers and twelve new flyers. This combination of new and returning flyers, in addition to the work done by the AstroAccess ground crew and the mentorship of the AA1 Ambassadors, has launched AstroAccess into the next phase of its mission to make space more accessible. For the first time, the flight will have international Ambassadors from four countries and three continents (Australia, Brazil, Germany, and Spain) as part of the program’s global expansion. The full list of AA2 flyers can be found at the end of this release and on the AstroAccess.org website.
AstroAccess co-founder and Executive Director Anna Voelker stated, “This is a vital next step for advancing not only access to space, but the quality of space science itself, by ensuring that 15% of the world’s population is not excluded”. Anna added, “We are honored to be working with a phenomenal and passionate team of nearly 100 individuals who are driving this mission forward, and welcome anyone who is interested in contributing to join our growing team.”
Returning flyer, Mary Cooper, a Stanford master’s student in Aeronautics and Astronautics with a lower leg prosthesis, will fly in zero-g for her second time and plans to continue her work as an AstroAccess Ambassador. Mary described her feelings about the experience: “This second flight will enable us to build upon the important demonstrations we began in our first flight to show that space can be made accessible with simple changes that improve safety for everyone.”
Joining Mary and the other returning flyers on AA2 is a fresh group of new flyers. One of the new Ambassadors is Lindsay Yazzolino. As a blind person and science enthusiast, Lindsay is prepared to fulfill her lifelong dream of experiencing microgravity from a purely nonvisual perspective. Lindsay notes, “There currently exists a grand total of zero blind astronauts. I’m looking forward to collaboratively developing much-needed design practices for implementing nonvisual accessibility in all aspects of space travel.”
The flight research conducted by the AstroAccess Ambassadors would not be possible without the strong support from the AstroAccess ground crew. The ground and flight crew are collaborating to design experiments that will help AstroAccess demonstrate ways to make spaceflight more accessible in the future. Flight Ops Research Lead Corey McClelland puts it best, “The work that we’re doing at AstroAccess is laying the foundation for the future of human spaceflight. To democratize space, we’re expanding the notion of ‘the right stuff’ and doing the necessary research for inclusion to enable a wide range of people to fly.”
The AstroAccess 2022 flight costs have been generously sponsored through a philanthropic donation from Dylan Taylor, and the organization continues to be supported by ongoing funding from the Whitesides Foundation. AstroAccess is funded entirely by charitable donations, which can be made via the website: https://astroaccess.org/donate/.
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More details about AstroAccess, including how to join the crew, can be found at https://astroaccess.org/. Information can also be found by following AstroAccess on your favorite social media site.
AstroAccess AA2 Flight Crew
Lindsay Yazzolino (she/her) is a totally blind nonvisual designer with backgrounds in cognitive neuroscience research and public transit accessibility. She graduated from Brown University and spent several years as a cognitive neuroscience researcher investigating how blindness shapes cognitive abilities such as Braille reading, language, and touch and sound perception. Lindsay currently works as a user experience designer at CVS Health and is also a tactile technology specialist, collaborating with scientists, museums, and product developers to create multisensory, hands-on experiences.
Lucas Radaelli (he/him) is blind and was born in Brazil. He works as a senior software engineer at Google in San Francisco, California. Lucas is a tech lead in a team that develops accessibility solutions for people with disabilities. He wants to advance STEM accessibility for blind people so they can pursue careers in engineering and mathematics.
Denna Lambert (she/her) is currently serving as the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Lead for NASA’s Early Stage Innovations & Partnerships (ESIP) portfolio within the Agency Space Technology Mission Directorate located at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Denna received her Master’s in Public Administration from the George Washington University and her bachelors in business administration from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville.
Dr. Carlos Archilla-Cady (he/him) currently works as a Pediatric Anesthesiologist in Orlando, Florida and is a Veteran of the United States Navy. Carlos is a bilateral cornea transplant recipient. He has conducted visual physiology experiments examining the effects of microgravity on eye health and would like to advance research on visual physiologic changes experienced in space travel. After executive education at the Harvard and Wharton Schools of Business, he recently obtained a Global Executive Master’s in Business Administration from the IESE Business School.
Victoria Garcia (she/her) works at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center as a launch vehicle systems engineer. Her work includes several projects that further technology for human space exploration. Victoria was born Deaf and often serves as a guest speaker for students of all ages. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and her Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Sheila Xu (she/her) is currently pursuing dual MPP and MBA degrees at Harvard University and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Sheila earned her Bachelor of Science in Humanities and Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the first Deaf Asian female pilot and has interned at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Sheila is interested in developing and investing in accessible space technology and advocating for policy changes to open up aerospace and aviation traditionally closed to people with disabilities.
Dr. K Renee Horton (she/her) is a hard of hearing advocate for diversity and inclusion in STEM and the founder of Unapologetically Being, Inc. She is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana and is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. Renee is also the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in Material Science with a concentration in Physics from the University of Alabama. She currently works as a NASA Airworthiness Deputy on the Electric Powertrain Flight Demonstrator project.
Jose Luis de Augusto (he/him) is an aerospace engineer, commercial pilot, flight instructor, and a wheelchair user. Jose has worked at Airbus as a certification engineer and a flight test engineer. In 2019, he founded Newwings, a pilot school for persons with disabilities. Jose was among the pre-selected candidates for the European Space Agency’s “Parastronaut Project.”
Michi Benthaus (she/her) earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechatronics Engineering and is pursuing a master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering with a focus on space and astrophysics at the Technical University of Munich. She is currently doing an internship at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Michi is a sports enthusiast who loves to play wheelchair tennis and go-karting.
Dwayne Fernandes (he/him) is an Indian-Born Australian and a double amputee. He works as a New South Wales (NSW) Accessible Delivery manager for the state government. Dwayne also co-founded Minds at Play, a national social gaming company that builds essential social and communication skills for players through games like Dungeons and Dragons and Minecraft. He works on engaging and expanding people’s understanding of disability inclusion when it comes to infrastructure, service delivery, and employment.
John D. Kemp (he/him) is a person with a disability and a graduate of Georgetown University and Washburn University School of Law. John co-founded the American Association of People with Disabilities, serves as President & CEO of Lakeshore Foundation and chairs Delta Air Lines’ Advisory Board on Disability. John has been awarded the Henry B. Betts Award, regarded as America’s highest honor for disability leadership and service, and the Dole Leadership Prize, which includes Nelson Mandela and two former U.S. presidents as past honorees.
Caeley Looney (she/her) is neurodivergent and a Space Mission Analyst at L3Harris Technologies. She graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering and earned a master’s degree in Space Systems Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Caeley is the founder and CEO of Reinvented Inc., a nonprofit focused on empowering young girls to pursue STEM fields.
Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen (she/her) is an associate professor at Bowling Green State University. She earned her PhD from the State University of New York at Buffalo in linguistics. Sheri’s research interests are in social aspects of astrobiology, disability studies, and how body shape and sensory input might affect language structure of any extraterrestrial intelligence we may someday find. She is the 2022-2023 Baruch S. Blumberg NASA Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, Exploration, and Scientific Innovation. Sheri flew as part of the Blind Crew on AA1.
Eric Ingram (he/him) is the Founder and CEO of SCOUT Inc., a U.S.-based company developing orbital products and services to enable a new era of space safety and transparency. He is also a Board Member at the Space Frontier Foundation. Previous to SCOUT, Eric served as an Aerospace Engineer for the Licensing and Evaluation Division of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. Eric flew as part of the Mobility Crew on AA1.
Eric Shear (he/him) is a graduate student at the University of Florida, where he is studying chemical engineering with the goal of working in the space industry on life support and in-situ resource utilization. Eric currently works as a research assistant at the University of North Florida on novel hydrogen production techniques. He previously earned degrees in physics and planetary science at York University in Toronto. Eric flew as part of the Deaf Crew on AA1.
Mary Cooper (she/her) is a student pursuing a Master of Science in Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering at Stanford University, where she recently graduated with an undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering & Computer Science. Mary is a champion athlete and a below-the-knee amputee. She is also a 2020 Brooke Owens Fellow, 2020 Lime Connect Fellow, and a 2021 Matthew Isakowtiz Fellow. Mary worked at SpaceX on the astronaut training team to help prepare Polaris Dawn, NASA Crew-5 and Crew-6 for spaceflight. Mary flew as part of the Mobility Crew on AA1.
AstroAccess is dedicated to advancing disability inclusion in space exploration for the benefit of humankind. The first mission successfully flew 12 individuals with disabilities on October 17, 2021 with the ultimate goal of flying one or more team members to space in the coming years. The project is supported through the Whitesides Foundation and is part of SciAccess, Inc., an international non-profit dedicated to advancing disability inclusion in STEM. The fiscal sponsor of the project is the Spacekind Foundation, a non-profit space advocacy organization.
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About Zero Gravity Corporation
Zero Gravity Corporation is a privately held space entertainment and tourism company whose mission is to make the excitement and adventure of space accessible to the public. The experience offered by Zero-G gives individuals the opportunity to experience true “weightlessness” without going to space. Zero-G’s attention to detail, excellent service and quality of experience combined with its exciting history has set the foundation for exhilarating adventure-based tourism. You can learn more by visiting the Zero-G website at www.gozerog.com.