Twelve disability ambassadors will fly weightlessly on Sunday (Oct. 17) as part of an initiative to advance disability inclusion in space.
AstroAccess, the latest mission from the SciAccess Initiative, which aims to make STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) more accessible, will fly a crew of 12 disability ambassadors on a weightless parabolic flight. The flight will take off on Sunday from Long Beach, California, aboard Zero Gravity Corporation's (Zero-G) "G-Force One" plane, which flies in a parabolic arc pattern that creates short periods of weightlessness in its cabin.
The 12 ambassadors, who have mobility, vision and hearing disabilities, will test how accessible the flight environment is both during weightlessness and periods of high gravity. (During parabolic flights, periods of weightlessness happen between periods of high gravity). The ambassadors on the flight are a varied lot, including scientists, veterans, engineers and artists.
Related: How to become an astronaut
On the flight, the team of ambassadors, known as the Flight 1 Ambassador Team, will not just experience weightlessness and periods of high gravity; they will also complete experiments and demonstrations. They will use their experience to see how the physical environment onboard spacecraft could be designed or modified to be accessible to spaceflyers regardless of disability, according to a statement from AstroAccess.
The tasks set out for the team include assessing the physical environment for accessibility, communicating safety procedures using multi-sensory methods and collecting data from demonstrations and experiments completed while weightless.
"We are honored to unveil the crew for our inaugural flight, which promises to represent a historic step in the mission to open space for all. Each of our ambassadors brings incredible experience and a wealth of expertise to our team," George Whitesides, the co-project lead of AstroAccess and chair of the Space Advisory Board for Virgin Galactic, said in the same statement.
The Flight 1 Ambassador Team will include Sina Bahram, a researcher, computer scientist and accessibility consultant; Dana Bolles, a science communications expert who previously worked as a NASA payload safety engineer; Mary Cooper, an aerospace engineering and computer science student; Eric Ingram, the founder and CEO of the space technology company SCOUT; Centra (Ce-Ce) Mazyck, an Army veteran jumpmaster, public speaker and Paralympic athlete; Mona Minkara, an assistant bioengineering professor at Northeastern University; Viktoria Modesta, a bionic pop artist; Zuby Onwuta, an Army veteran and innovator with Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Sawyer Rosenstein, a news producer at WPBF 25 and host of the Talking Space podcast; Eric Shear, a chemical engineering graduate student; Apurva Varia, a NASA mission operation director; and Sheri Wells-Jensen, an associate professor of linguistics at Bowling Green State University.
"I’m thrilled to be joining the AstroAccess team to make space accessible by design. So often we make design decisions up front that are exclusionary to entire segments of the population. That’s why I’m so excited about space. Space, to me, is a blank canvas," Bahram said in the statement.
"We are only at the beginning of this journey, but I am already excited to see what can be achieved by removing barriers to space, inspiring the future generations to pursue careers in aerospace and other STEM industries, and the benefit this will have on humankind," Bahram added.