Accessible Space Flight
A crew of 14 disabled astronauts have completed a galactic mission on a zero-gravity flight 25,000ft above Earth.
The space cadets, who have mobility, vision loss and hearing loss, experienced weightlessness undertaking a series of assignments to study how space vessels can be adapted to become more accessible.
Scientists, engineers and doctors from, all with various levels of disability, signed up for the project organised by AstroAccess on a Zero-G aircraft in Houston, Texas last Thursday, 15 December.
The multinational crew - from Australia, Brazil, Germany, Spain and the US - completed a round journey from Ellington Airport, adjacent to the Houston Spaceport and the NASA Johnson Space centre.
The groundbreaking flight comes just a few weeks after the European Space Agency (ESA) announced former Paralympian athlete, John McFall has signed up to the 2022 ESA Astronaut Class.
Reaching an altitude of 25,000ft, the AA2 flight performed 18 parabolic manoeuvres so the crew could complete various assignments in order to make space travel more accessible for future astronauts with disabilities.
One assignment involved attaching tactile graphics to cabin walls for crew with vision loss to assist them in emergencies finding essential objects in zero gravity in darkness.
Members of the Blind and Mobility Crew were able to sit independently in a launch seat and fasten their five-point seat harness, showing that disabled people can join suborbital space missions without being exposed to any additional danger.
Those forming the hard-of-hearing and blind crews used SonicCloud to improve onboard speech understanding systems. Using innovative sound personalization software they were able to control the audio to match their hearing levels on Sony headphones.
Crew members with hearing loss monitored American Sign Language (ASL) in zero gravity following similar assignments earlier this year on the Aurelia Institute Horizon flight and a scuba diving experiment at the University of Arizona's Biosphere 2 in Tucson, Arizona in November.
Anna Voelker, executive director of AstroAccess, said: '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.'
Matt Gohd, CEO of Zero-G Corporation said: '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.
'We are honoured to share this amazing experience and the first steps to space with this extraordinary group of individuals. Space should be open to everyone.'
Arturo Machuca, Director of Houston Spaceport and Ellington Airport said: 'Inclusiveness and innovation go hand in hand.
'As a focal point for aerospace innovation, we stand proud with partners like AstroAccess, who strive to level the playing field for space exploration.'
One hour on earth is 0.0026 seconds in space.