Why Can’t Astronauts Have Disabilities? 12 Flyers Search for Proof They Can. - The New York Times
Oct 23, 2021 2 mins, 23 secs
People with different types of disabilities tested their skills and technologies on a zero-gravity research flight with the goal of proving that they can safely go to space.

While simulating lunar gravity on the flight — which is about one-sixth of Earth’s — he discovered something even more surprising: for the first time in his life, he could stand up.

He was one of 12 disabled passengers who swam through the air aboard a parabolic flight in Southern California last Sunday in an experiment testing how people with disabilities fare in a zero-gravity environment.

Although about 600 people have been to space since the beginning of human spaceflight in the 1960s, NASA and other space agencies have long restricted the job of astronaut to a minuscule slice of humanity.

This blocked the path to space for many with disabilities, overlooking arguments that disabled people could make excellent astronauts in some cases.

But the rise of private spaceflight, funded by billionaires with the support of government space agencies, is creating the possibility of allowing a much wider and more diverse pool of people to make trips to the edge of space and beyond.

The participants in Sunday’s AstroAccess flight argue that accessibility issues must be considered now — at the advent of private space travel — rather than later, because retrofitting equipment to be accessible would take more time and money.

During Sunday’s flight.

And the chronic pain he usually experiences throughout his body disappeared during the flight, he said.

With just a few modifications for each type of disability, Ann Kapusta, AstroAccess’s mission and communications director, said the dozen participants in the flight had a roughly 90 percent success rate getting back to their seats after 15 tests — 12 in zero gravity, two that mimicked lunar gravity and one that mimicked Martian gravity.

AstroAccess conducted these tests — each lasting 20 to 30 seconds — to ensure that people with disabilities can go on a suborbital flight, like the one Jeff Bezos took in July, and safely get into their seats in the limited time before re-entry.

At first, he said he was concerned that people with disabilities were more fragile and would require extra medical precautions.

Hawking’s flight, this one was geared toward researching the ability of disabled people to function independently in space and developing tools they could use to do so.

Some on Sunday’s flight once dreamed of becoming professional astronauts, and hope this research could open the door for other disabled people to get the job.

Some private space companies’ rules are more forgiving than those of government agencies.

Tarah Castleberry, the chief medical officer of Virgin Galactic, said the company will conduct medical screenings for each astronaut to ensure safety and is currently considering flying people who have prosthetics, hearing impairments, paralysis and other medical conditions and physical disabilities.

On Sunday’s flight, he got a little closer to his dream

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