Testing Space Travel for People With Disabilities

A nonprofit ran a flight in zero-gravity conditions for passengers with disabilities in an effort to ensure the new wave of space travel comes with accessibility built in.

What to know:

  • 12 people with disabilities recently participated in a parabolic flight, a space training flight within the Earth’s atmosphere that moves up and down in arcs to create periods of zero and low gravity.

  • The experiment was led by the nonprofit AstroAccess, which advocates for addressing accessibility issues in spaceflight now, when private space travel is just beginning, rather than retroactively farther down the line.

  • The test evaluated whether the participants were able to return to their seats quickly, to evaluate the potential for people with disabilities to embark on suborbital flights. The passengers achieved a roughly 90% success rate over 15 tests.

  • Participants trialed devices designed for people with different disabilities to navigate the plane, such as ultrasonic devices and special lighting systems for deaf passengers, and a specially modified suit to help a passenger paralyzed from the waist down maneuver his legs.

  • Some participants noted that their experiences indicate that reduced gravity could have potential therapeutic applications. Eric Ingram, who was born with Freeman-Sheldon Syndrome and uses a wheelchair, found he could stand up for the first time in his life in the flight’s simulation of lunar gravity.

This is a summary of the article “A Future for People With Disabilities in Outer Space Takes Flight” published by The New York Times on October 22. The full article can be found on nytimes.com.

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