AstroAccess: Making Space Accessible for Disabled Astronauts

Category: Cover Story

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Disabled individuals can operate safely and effectively in weightless environments, a study led by PSI’s Jamie Molaro shows.

The study looked at what challenges future Disabled astronauts might face in operating effectively in space, and how we can redesign our tools, environments, and practices to make human spaceflight more accessible.

“AstroAccess successfully completed the first parabolic weightless research flight with Disabled crew. Researchers with mobility, vision, and hearing disabilities designed and tested tools and technologies to help mitigate challenges that disabled astronauts may face for operating in weightless environments. Experiments focused primarily on communication, navigation, and movement,” said Molaro, who was Flight Operations Co-Lead on the project and lead author of “AstroAccess: Testing accessibility accommodations for disabled and mixed-ability crews operating in space-like environments” that appears in Acta Astronautica.

“The primary challenges to disabled crew are communication and wayfinding, but we found that that haptic, light, and tactile technologies offer promising avenues for more research. Redundancy using varied solutions is key to universal accessible design, allowing crews with mixed abilities to work together. Redesign of emergency response systems will also be critical,” Molaro said.

“Society today is experiencing renewed interest in human spaceflight as public and private space entities prepare to send humans back to the Moon. This is a pivotal moment in history as we shape our future relationship with space,” Molaro said. “Historically, Disabled individuals have been excluded from astronaut programs, but innovation in the area of accessible design can make spaceflight more inclusive. This work explores key questions in this area to help guide the direction of future research.”

AstroAccess is a project of SciAccess Initiative dedicated to promoting inclusive human space exploration by paving the way for Disabled astronauts.

An Ambassador shown centered in the image is using both hands to remove a prosthetic foot from her left leg. She is mostly floating with her other toe touching the floor. She has a big smile on her face and her long hair is floating gently around her head. Credit: Al Powers for Zero Gravity Corporation.