AstroAccess Successfully Completes First Weightless Research Flight with International Disabled Crew
Credit: Zero G Photographer Tasha Dixon. Denna Lambert [L], Victoria Garcia [C], Dr. K Renee Horton [R], float in zero-gravity to investigate accessibility techniques for future space vehicles and space stations onboard AstroAccess’ disabled research parabolic flight conducted on December 15, 2022 at Ellington Field in Houston Texas.
December 16, 2022, Houston, Texas – AstroAccess, a project dedicated to promoting disability inclusion in space, announced the successful completion of its first formal research flight ‘AA2’ onboard Zero-G Corporation’s aircraft. The flight included 14 disabled crew members from five different countries: Australia, Brazil, Germany, Spain, and the US.
The Zero-G aircraft ascended to an altitude of 25,000 feet, at which point the vehicle commenced 18 parabolic maneuvers. The flight was completed in Houston, Texas on December 15, 2022. The mission took off and landed at Ellington Airport, adjacent to the Houston Spaceport and the NASA Johnson Space Center, the home to US human spaceflight training.
The AstroAccess AA2 flight was completed just weeks after the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that John McFall, a person with a disability, would be part of the 2022 ESA Astronaut Class. AstroAccess is proud to have Johann Dietrich Worner, the former Director General of ESA under whom their disabled astronaut initiative was conceived, on its Advisory Board.
Anna Voelker, the executive director of AstroAccess, stated, “While there is still work to be done to make space accessible for everyone, the success of this historic parabolic flight and ESA’s selection of John McFall show strong movement in the right direction.”
The flight was sponsored by George Whitesides, the co-founder of AstroAccess, Dylan Taylor, the space entrepreneur, and Amy Dornbusch. Mr. Taylor stated, “AstroAccess is proving that space can one day be accessible for everyone.”
AA2 was the first full charter research flight for AstroAccess. In Zero-G Research Flights, the cabin is configured for research demonstrations and the number of parabolas is extended. During the AA2 flight, the disabled crew conducted a variety of scientific demonstrations to advance universal design in space:
- The Blind Crew tested an innovative set of tactile graphics to be added to cabin walls that will allow both blind crew members and sighted crew members to stay oriented during emergencies and find emergency gear in zero gravity if the lights go off.
- The Blind and Mobility Crews also demonstrated for the first time that a disabled person can independently get into a launch seat and safely fasten the five-point seat harness, making it clear that disabled people can safely fly aboard suborbital space missions.
- In collaboration with Sony and SonicCloud, the Hard-of-Hearing and Blind Crews demonstrated a system to enable improved speech understanding using SonicCloud’s innovative sound personalization software, which allows the user to tailor the audio to their hearing ability, in conjunction with Sony headphones.
- The Deaf crew continued their work on linguistics studies of intelligibility of American Sign Language (ASL) in zero gravity. This group previously worked on ASL comprehension on the Aurelia Institute Horizon flight early this year and as part of a scuba diving experiment at the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2 in Tucson, Arizona last month.
The Biosphere2 experiment was made possible through the partnership and generosity of Uplift Aerospace, which has selected AstroAccess as the official philanthropic beneficiary of the Space+5, a commercial astronaut program. This work was also supported by CHaSE, the Center for Human Space Exploration.
“From our time with Steven Hawking to our relationship with AstroAccess, Zero G believes that the only limits you have are the ones you place on yourself,” said Matt Gohd, CEO of Zero G Corporation. “We are honored to share this amazing experience and the first steps to space with this extraordinary group of individuals. Space should be open to everyone.”
“Inclusiveness and innovation go hand in hand,” said Arturo Machuca, Director of Houston Spaceport and Ellington Airport. “As a focal point for aerospace innovation, we stand proud with partners like AstroAccess, who strive to level the playing field for space exploration.”
The success of AstroAccess AA2 highlights the growth of AstroAccess over the past year. AstroAccess continues to form partnerships and have conversations with major stakeholders in the commercial space industry, including commercial space station companies.
AstroAccess is funded entirely by charitable donations, which can be made via the website: https://astroaccess.org/donate/.
To learn more about becoming an AstroAccess sponsor, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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, 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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