News & Analysis

12 disability ambassadors named for historic space flight

14th October 2021
Louis Regnier

AstroAcccess, a mission dedicated to advancing disability inclusion in space exploration, has unveiled a crew of 12 ambassadors selected to participate in a parabolic flight with the Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G) on the 17th of October 2021.

The space flight marks an important milestone in AstroAccess’ mission to open space to all, and will comprise of disabled scientists, veterans, engineers, and artists who will each experience weightlessness and carry out experimentation and demonstration tasks. The team seeks to assess how the physical environment onboard space vessels could be modified so that all astronauts and explorers, regardless of disability on Earth, can live, work, and thrive in space.

The inaugural flight will focus on operational tasks that will demonstrate the abilities of disabled crew members to work effectively in a microgravity environment and investigate minor changes that could be made to ensure space vessels are accessible by design. This will include examining physical environment accessibility, multi-sensory communication for safety procedures, as well as data collection of microgravity demonstrations.

AstroAccess intends to continue iterating design solutions through future missions, supporting researchers with visible and non-visible disabilities aboard recurring parabolic flight demonstrations, suborbital missions, and eventually orbital spaceflight.

Said George Whitesides, co-project lead of AstroAccess and chair of the Space Advisory Board for Virgin Galactic: “We are honoured 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.

“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.”

 

List of the 12 included in AstroAccess Flight 1 Ambassador Team

  1. Sina Bahram, an accessibility consultant, computer scientist, researcher, public speaker, entrepreneur, and founder of Prime Access Consulting. He was recognised in 2012 as a White House Champion of Change for his doctoral research work enabling users with disabilities to succeed in STEM fields.
  2. Dana Bolles, a science communications expert and previous payload safety engineer at NASA.  Through her current role, she is both providing access and resources for science education, as well as continuing to advocate for the importance of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.
  3. Mary Cooper, an academic, champion athlete, and below-the-knee amputee. She is currently a senior at Stanford University pursuing a degree in Aerospace Engineering & Computer Science, a 2020 Brooke Owens Fellow, 2020 Lime Connect Fellow, and 2021 Matthew Isakowitz Fellow.
  4. Eric Ingram, the founder and CEO of SCOUT Inc., a company de-risking space operations with sensor suites that enable spacecraft to see and understand the area around them. Eric previously served as the President of the United States Wheelchair Rugby Association and has competed in the sport for over 15 years.
  5. Centra Mazyck, an Army Veteran Jumpmaster. After a spinal cord injury during a routine jump, Ce-Ce became a public speaker for Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and a Paralympic athlete competing for the US Track & Field Team in Javelin during the London 2012 games.
  6. Mona Minkara, an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at Northeastern University and leads the Minkara COMBINE (Computational Modeling for BioINterface Engineering) Lab researching pulmonary surfactant. Mona also documents her travels around the world through her YouTube channel “Planes, Trains, and Canes”.
  7. Viktoria Modesta, a bionic pop artist and creative director. She has established herself as a leader and connector in the post-disability community bridging art, culture, academia, and medicine in hyper collaborative multimedia productions, including her performance at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paralympics.
  8. Zuby Onwuta, a Harvard-MIT trained innovator, US Presidential Service Award recipient, US Army Veteran, and founder of both Think and Zoom and Future of Disability. Onwuta is the patented inventor of Brain control for Blind Assistive Tech, a solution that reads and responds to human brain waves and provides hands-free vision augmentation and reading assistance
  9. Sawyer Rosenstein, a news producer at WPBF 25 in West Palm Beach and host of the Talking Space Podcast. He was the youngest ever member of the NASA press corps and covered the final space shuttle launch in 2011.  He continues to cover Commercial Crew Program launches including the most recent Inspiration 4 launch.
  10. Eric Shear, a graduate student in chemical engineering at the University of Florida. In 2011, following in the footsteps of the Gallaudet Eleven, Shear was one of the first modern day Deaf NASA researchers to participate in a Zero-G research flight as part of the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program.
  11. Apurva Varia, a Mission Operation Director for three spacecrafts - Parker Solar Probe, Interstellar Boundary Explorer, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter – and was the first Deaf mission director for an uncrewed mission at NASA.
  12. Sheri Wells-Jensen, an associate Professor of Linguistics at Bowling Green State University, where her research focuses on social aspects of human colonisation, astrobiology, disability, and the relationship between language and thought. Wells-Jensen studies the ways in which alternative sensory inputs influence the evolution of scientific thought and is currently writing a book about disability and space.

 

Said Sina Bahram, Flight 1 ambassador: “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”.

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