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PSI's Jamie Molaro Discusses AstroAccess Space Program

Jamie Molari LPSC 2022 

Jamie Molaro

 

PSI Research Scientist Jamie Molaro presented her abstract “Testing accessibility accommodations for disabled or mixed-ability crews operating in space-like environments” at the 53rd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at The Woodlands, Texas. 

“Historically, disabled individuals have been excluded from human spaceflight opportunities in both the public and rapidly growing private sector due to perceptions that they lack the physical capacity to function in extreme environments. Such perceptions are born from pervasive and harmful assumptions that disabled individuals struggle to live and act independently,” Molaro said. “In reality, disabled people live and work in their own bodies every day with jobs, families, hobbies, and responsibilities just like any other person. The lack of motivation on the part of governments and institutions to implement basic accommodations to make society more accessible creates barriers in their lives which often excludes them from participating in integral aspects of life and culture. We live in a growing, golden era of space exploration as both public and private entities reach out beyond Earth’s surface. Yet, there’s an important societal conversation to be had about why exactly we are exploring space, what exploration means, and what we will do when we get there. If we want our future relationship with space to truly reflect humanity, then it’s important for people who are disabled and/or part of other minoritized groups to be included in the many fields and professions that are bringing us there.” 

With reasonable accommodations, as well as proper training for both disabled and nondisabled crew members, disabled individuals would not only be capable of performing the duties of an astronaut but would bring unique strengths to the role. Little research has been done to investigate how different disabilities may influence function in space environments or effective design principals for space vehicles and habitats. On October 17, 2021, Mission: AstroAccess (MAA) launched a group of disabled scientists, athletes, artists, and veterans on a ZERO-G Corporation parabolic flight simulating weightlessness. These “Ambassadors” carried out investigations to test accessibility accommodations that may assist future disabled astronauts operate in the extreme environment of space. For example, they tested using vibrational wristbands to send communications to blind and deaf Ambassadors, and flight suit modifications to assist partially paralyzed Ambassadors in controlling their movement in zero gravity. Molaro said, “The biggest challenge faced by disabled crew was the same as for non-disabled flight crew. Maintaining control over your body and movement is difficult in weightlessness and all people are equally unprepared to handle it. With practice, all flight crew gained more skill and they can do so in space as well.” 

The AstroAccess team will continue their research with a series of additional flights later this year. They hope to engage with public and private space companies about how to incorporate accessible design into space technology in push to make space more inclusive. Find out more about their work at www.astroaccess.org.”

AstroAccess Ambassadors

Ambassadors in front of the ZERO-G plane before boarding. From left to right is (top row) Mary Cooper, Sheri Wells-Jensen, Eric Shear, Apurva Varia, Sina Bahram, Zuby Onwuta, Mona Minkara, Viktoria Modesta, (bottom row) Sawyer Rosenstein, Dana Bolles, Eric Ingram, and Ce-Ce Mazyck.

May 22, 2022

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