12 ambassadors selected to participate on weightless parabolic flight on October 17
Ambassadors with mobility, vision, and hearing disabilities will test the design for accessibility in zero-gravity and high gravity environments
Coinciding with World Space Week, the crew announced today will seek to advance disability inclusion in space
6 October 2021, Long Beach, CA – AstroAccess, a mission dedicated to advancing disability inclusion in space exploration, today unveils a crew of 12 ambassadors selected to participate in a parabolic flight with the Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G) on 17 October 2021.
The flight marks an important milestone in AstroAccess’ mission to open space to all, and will comprise of disabled scientists, veterans, engineers, and artists who will each experience weightlessness and carry out experimentation and demonstration tasks. The team seeks to assess how the physical environment onboard space vessels could be modified so that all astronauts and explorers, regardless of disability on Earth, can live, work, and thrive in space.
This inaugural flight will focus on operational tasks that will demonstrate the abilities of disabled crew members to work effectively in a microgravity environment and investigate minor changes that could be made to ensure space vessels are accessible by design. This will include examining physical environment accessibility, multi-sensory communication for safety procedures, as well as data collection of microgravity demonstrations. AstroAccess intends to continue iterating design solutions through future missions, supporting researchers with visible and non-visible disabilities aboard recurring parabolic flight demonstrations, suborbital missions, and eventually orbital spaceflight.
George Whitesides, Co-Project Lead of AstroAccess and Chair of the Space Advisory Board for Virgin Galactic, said:
“We are honored to unveil the crew for our inaugural flight, which promises to represent a historic step in the mission to open space for all. Each of our ambassadors brings incredible experience and a wealth of expertise to our team.”
AstroAccess Flight 1 Ambassador Team will include:
Sina Bahram is an accessibility consultant, computer scientist, researcher, public speaker, entrepreneur, and founder of Prime Access Consulting. He was recognized in 2012 as a White House Champion of Change for his doctoral research work enabling users with disabilities to succeed in STEM fields.
Dana Bolles is a science communications expert and previous payload safety engineer at NASA. Through her current role, she is both providing access and resources for science education as well as continuing to advocate for the importance of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.
Mary Cooper is an academic, champion athlete, and below-the-knee amputee. She is currently a senior at Stanford University pursuing a degree in Aerospace Engineering & Computer Science, a 2020 Brooke Owens Fellow, 2020 Lime Connect Fellow, and 2021 Matthew Isakowitz Fellow.
Eric Ingram is the founder and CEO of SCOUT Inc., a company de-risking space operations with sensor suites that enable spacecraft to see and understand the area around them. Eric previously served as the President of the United States Wheelchair Rugby Association and has competed in the sport for over 15 years.
Centra (Ce-Ce) Mazyck is an Army Veteran Jumpmaster. After a spinal cord injury during a routine jump, Ce-Ce became a public speaker for Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and a Paralympic athlete competing for the US Track & Field Team in Javelin during the London 2012 games.
Mona Minkara is an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Northeastern University, and leads the Minkara COMBINE (Computational Modeling for BioINterface Engineering) Lab researching pulmonary surfactant. Mona also documents her travels around the world through her YouTube channel “Planes, Trains, and Canes”.
Viktoria Modesta is a bionic pop artist and creative director. She has established herself as a leader and connector in the post-disability community bridging art, culture, academia and medicine in hyper collaborative multimedia productions, including her performance at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paralympics.
Zuby Onwuta is a Harvard-MIT trained innovator, US Presidential Service Award recipient, US Army Veteran, and founder of both Think and Zoom and Future of Disability. He is the patented inventor of Brain control for Blind Assistive Tech, a solution that reads and responds to human brain waves and provides hands-free vision augmentation and reading assistance
Sawyer Rosenstein is a news producer at WPBF 25 in West Palm Beach and host of the Talking Space Podcast. He was the youngest ever member of the NASA press corps, and covered the final space shuttle launch in 2011. He continues to cover Commercial Crew Program launches including the most recent Inspiration 4 launch.
Eric Shear is a current graduate student in chemical engineering at the University of Florida. In 2011, following in the footsteps of the Gallaudet Eleven, he was one of the first modern day Deaf NASA researchers to participate in a Zero-G research flight as part of the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program.
Apurva Varia is a Mission Operation Director for three spacecrafts – Parker Solar Probe, Interstellar Boundary Explorer, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter – and was the first Deaf mission director for an uncrewed mission at NASA.
Sheri Wells-Jensen is an associate professor of linguistics at Bowling Green State University where her research focuses on social aspects of human colonization, astrobiology, disability, and the relationship between language and thought. She studies the ways in which alternative sensory inputs influence the evolution of scientific thought and is currently writing a book about disability and space.
“I’m thrilled to be joining the AstroAccess team to make space accessible by design. So often we make design decisions up front that are exclusionary to entire segments of the population. That’s why I’m so excited about space. Space, to me, is a blank canvas,” said Sina Bahram, Flight 1 Ambassador.
“We are only at the beginning of this journey, but I am already excited to see what can be achieved by removing barriers to space, inspiring the future generations to pursue careers in aerospace and other STEM industries, and the benefit this will have on humankind.”
AstroAccess is dedicated to advancing disability inclusion in space exploration for the benefit of humankind. The first mission will fly on 17 October 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 the SciAccess Initiative, an international organization dedicated to advancing disability inclusion in STEM. The fiscal sponsor of the project is Yuri’s Night, a non-profit space advocacy organization.
AstroAccess is funded entirely by charitable donations, which can be made via the website: https://astroaccess.org/donate/
About World Space Week
The largest space event on Earth, UN-declared World Space Week is celebrated October 4-10 annually. It is an international celebration of the contribution of space science and technology to the betterment of the human condition. World Space Week consists of a myriad of space-related events held by space agencies, aerospace companies, schools, planetaria, museums, astronomy clubs, and others in a common timeframe to achieve greater student and public impact through synchronization. For more information, please visit: www.worldspaceweek.org
About National Disability Employment Awareness Month
Held every October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is a fitting time to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. The 2021 NDEAM theme will be “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.” NDEAM is led by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), but its true spirit lies in the many observances held at the grassroots level across the nation every year. The Campaign for Disability Employment encourages organizations of all sizes and in all industries to participate in NDEAM. For more information, please visit: www.whatcanyoudocampaign.org