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Disabled ‘astronauts in training’ complete gravity-free flight 32,000 feet above Earth

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Twelve ambassadors for the disabled have completed a gravity-free flight 32,000 feet above the Earth as part of an initiative to promote the inclusion of disabled people in space.

The crew, who have mobility, vision and hearing problems, experienced weightlessness and conducted a series of tests to better understand how to make spacesuits and spacecraft more accessible.

Among them were scientists, veterans, engineers and artists.

Twelve ambassadors for the disabled have completed a gravity-free flight 32,000 feet above the Earth as part of an initiative to promote the inclusion of disabled people in space. Centra Mazyck, an army veteran and former Paralympian, is pictured floating during a weightless parabola

The 12 ambassadors for 'G-Force One'.  From left to right, back row: Mary Cooper, Cheri Wells-Jensen, Eric Shear, Apurva Varia, Sina Bahram, Zuby Onwuta, Mona Minkara and Viktoria Modesta.  Front row: Sawyer Rosenstein, Dana Bolles, Eric Ingram and Centers Mazyck

The 12 ambassadors for ‘G-Force One’. From left to right, back row: Mary Cooper, Cheri Wells-Jensen, Eric Shear, Apurva Varia, Sina Bahram, Zuby Onwuta, Mona Minkara and Viktoria Modesta. Front row: Sawyer Rosenstein, Dana Bolles, Eric Ingram and Centers Mazyck

What is AstroAccess?

AstroAccess is an initiative dedicated to promoting the integration of disabled people in space exploration.

On Sunday, a group of disabled scientists, veterans, students, athletes and artists took part in a parabolic flight with the Zero Gravity Corporation (Zero-G).

The AstroAccess ambassadors experienced weightlessness and conducted lunar gravity, Martian gravity and zero gravity observations and experiments to explore how to adapt the physical environment aboard spacecraft so that all astronauts, regardless of their disability on Earth, can live and work in space.

The ambassadors will also use their platform to act as public advocates for global disability access in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The mission was led by AstroAccess, an initiative committed to promoting the inclusion of disabled people in space exploration.

It saw the ambassadors, known as the Flight 1 Ambassador Team, take off from Long Beach, California, on Sunday, aboard the Zero Gravity Corporation (Zero-G) “G-Force One” aircraft.

The aircraft flies in a parabolic arc pattern to create short periods of weightlessness in its cabin.

Over the course of 15 arcs, the team performed tasks including assessing the physical environment for accessibility, communicating safety procedures using multisensory methods, and collecting data from demonstrations and experiments completed weightlessly.

They experienced lunar gravity, Martian gravity, and gravity in flight.

One of the ambassadors, Sina Bahram, said: ‘Floating in microgravity was the truest physical manifestation of pure joy and delight I have ever felt in my life.

“I feel this joy because of the entrenched nature of the experience, the progress being made by and for people with disabilities, the more inclusive future we are building and the recognition that such a future will not exist without us.”

AstroAccess not only provides valuable insights into the future of spacecraft design, but also strives to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Viktoria Modesta floats upside down in weightlessness.  Viktoria is a creative director and bionic pop artist who performed at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London

Viktoria Modesta floats upside down in weightlessness. Viktoria is a creative director and bionic pop artist who performed at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London

Mona Minkara is pictured enjoying the gravity experience.  She is an assistant professor of bioengineering at Northeastern University

Mona Minkara is pictured enjoying the gravity experience. She is an assistant professor of bioengineering at Northeastern University

Apurva Varia, director of space missions, led demonstrations related to visual communication

Apurva Varia, director of space missions, led demonstrations related to visual communication

Anna Voelker, Executive Director of SciAccess and co-project leader of AstroAccess, said: “Space removes the barriers between people; now it’s time to break down the barriers to space itself.

“AstroAccess sends a message to people historically excluded from STEM that not only is there room for you in space, but there is also a need for you.”

The mission was supported by a range of disability and space organizations, including DAV (Disabled American Veterans), Gallaudet University, the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Space Frontier Foundation, the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and the Foundation whitesides.

Eric Ingram, is captured, suspended horizontally in the air, with no gravity.  Eric is the CEO and founder of SCOUT Inc.

Eric Ingram, is captured, suspended horizontally in the air, with no gravity. Eric is the CEO and founder of SCOUT Inc.

Sawyer Rosenstein is a news producer at WPBF.  His demonstrations were based on accessible flight suit modifications for safety and control in microgravity environments

Sawyer Rosenstein is a news producer at WPBF. His demonstrations were based on accessible flight suit modifications for safety and control in microgravity environments

In addition to the 12 ambassadors on board the flight were members of several American companies flying manned spaceflight vehicles.

George Whitesides, AstroAccess co-project leader, said: “Yesterday’s successful flight was an important milestone in our mission to open up space for everyone.

“The tasks and demonstrations performed by our ambassadors will have a profound effect on the space industry in general, informing the design of future space vehicles and paving the way for future astronauts with disabilities.”

Marc Burgess, CEO of DAV, said the research will “integrate disabled veterans as well as civilians in space and benefit the disabled community and humanity for years to come.”

HOW DOES A ZERO GRAVITY PLANE CREATE WEIGHTLESSITY?

Zero gravity planes create a weightless experience by performing parabolic maneuvers

Zero gravity planes create a weightless experience by performing parabolic maneuvers

Zero-gravity aircraft, also known as “vomit comets,” create a weightless experience by performing parabolic maneuvers.

Zero Gravity Corporation uses a modified Boeing 727, G-Force One, piloted by specially trained pilots.

First, the flight level to the horizon at an altitude of 24,000 feet, the company said.

Then the pilot pulls up and the angle gradually increases to about 45° with the horizon.

At this point, the aircraft reaches an altitude of 32,000 feet.

When the aircraft is then ‘pushed over’, the riders will enter the zero gravity segment of the parabola and everything on board will be weightless for 20-30 seconds.

Riders are given a chance to stabilize on the ground during a ‘soft pull’, after which the maneuver is repeated 15 times.

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