Why Can’t Astronauts Have Disabilities? 12 Flyers Seek for Proof They Can.

Eric Ingram sometimes strikes via the world on his wheelchair. The 31-year-old chief government of SCOUT Inc., a wise satellite tv for pc parts firm, was born with Freeman-Sheldon Syndrome, a uncommon situation that impacts his joints and blocked him from his dream of turning into an astronaut. He utilized and was rejected, twice.

However onboard a particular airplane flight this week, he spun effortlessly via the air, touching nothing. Transferring round, he discovered, was simpler within the simulated zero-gravity atmosphere the place he wanted so few instruments to assist.

Whereas simulating lunar gravity on the flight — which is about one-sixth of Earth’s — he found one thing much more stunning: for the primary time in his life, he may arise.

“It was legitimately bizarre,” he mentioned. “Simply the act of standing was most likely nearly as alien to me as floating in zero gravity.”

He was one in every of 12 disabled passengers who swam via the air aboard a parabolic flight in Southern California final Sunday in an experiment testing how folks with disabilities fare in a zero-gravity atmosphere. Parabolic flights, which fly inside Earth’s ambiance in alternating arcs, enable passengers to expertise zero gravity on the upward arcs for repeated brief bursts, and are a daily a part of coaching for astronauts.

The flight was organized by AstroAccess, a nonprofit initiative that goals to make spaceflight accessible to to all. Though about 600 folks have been to house because the starting of human spaceflight within the Nineteen Sixties, NASA and different house businesses have lengthy restricted the job of astronaut to a minuscule slice of humanity. The American company initially solely chosen white, bodily match males to be astronauts and even when the company broadened its standards, it nonetheless solely selected folks that met sure bodily necessities.

During Sunday’s flight. Mr. Rosenstein wore a specially modified flight suit with a strap he could grab to bend his knees and maneuver his legs.

“I was in control of myself and my whole body,” Mr. Rosenstein said. “It’s almost indescribable to have that freedom after having it taken away for so long.”

He also found he was more flexible in zero gravity, where he could finally test his full range of motion. And the chronic pain he usually experiences throughout his body disappeared during the flight, he said. Like Mr. Ingram, he also could stand up on his own. They both suggested that their experiences signal that zero gravity or reduced gravity could have potential therapeutic applications.

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 October, and safely get into their seats in the limited time before re-entry. This is typical training for suborbital flights, but not for orbital flights, which don’t have the same time crunch before re-entry.

The relative ease of the flight surprised some on the team, including Tim Bailey, the executive director of Yuri’s Night, a nonprofit organization focused on space education that sponsors AstroAccess. At first, he said he was concerned that people with disabilities were more fragile and would require extra medical precautions.

Dr. Minkara, a bioengineer at Northeastern University in Boston, pointed out that making spacecraft navigable for blind people would also help keep other astronauts safe if the lights go out during a spacecraft emergency.

Dr. 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.

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