Zero Gravity Corp.'s Zero G aircraft is prepared for its next mission. Photo courtesy of Zero Gravity Corp.
Oct. 11 (UPI) -- Twelve people with disabilities plan to experience more than seven minutes of weightlessness on a zero-gravity airplane flight from California next week as part of a mission to advance space exploration accessibility.
The adventure, organized by California-based non-profit AstroAccess, will attempt to explore how people with disabilities experience microgravity.
It represents the latest effort to expand access to space, following the successful first all-private orbital spaceflight -- Inspiration 4 -- that returned to Earth on Sept. 20 in a SpaceX capsule.
AstroAccess chose the 12 crew members, called ambassadors, through a competitive process. They will fly next Sunday from Long Beach, Calif., in a jet aircraft owned by Zero Gravity Corp., which trains astronauts and other prospective spaceflight participants.
The ambassadors trained to perform a series of arced flights that result in 30 seconds of weightlessness at the peak -- similar to the feeling roller coaster riders experience after reaching the top of a steep hill and plunging down the slope.
The flight is the first of its kind, according to AstroAccess, and 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."
Besides physical accessibility, members of the group will explore safety communications for blind or deaf people. AstroAccess plans more weightlessness flights, suborbital missions, and eventually orbital spaceflight.
One of the ambassadors is Sawyer Rosenstein, 27, a South Florida broadcast journalist who suffered leg paralysis at age 12 when he was punched by a bully at school.
Rosenstein is a producer for WPBF-TV in Palm Beach Gardens, and also works as a television journalist covering space launches. He was working at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the launch of the SpaceX Inspiration 4 mission Sept. 16 when AstroAccess told him he'd be flying on the weightlessness mission.
"I think it's probably one of the few times in my life that I've ever been speechless," Rosenstein said in an interview. "It's something I've always dreamed of doing, a zero-gravity flight."
Rosenstein said he anticipates a rare and precious feeling of freedom.
"When you're in a chair sitting for so long and everything is off limits because there's no curb cut or no elevator, suddenly it's like you can finally go somewhere, get out of your chair and float around," he said.
Famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who was paralyzed and died from complications related to ALS, expressed similar sentiments after he flew on a weightlessness flight in 2007.
"For me, this was true freedom. People who know me well say that my smile was the biggest they'd ever seen. I was Superman for those few minutes," Hawking said.
This composite image made from six frames shows the International Space Station, with a crew of seven aboard, in silhouette as it transits the sun at roughly 5 miles per second on April 23, 2021, as seen from Nottingham, Md. Aboard are: NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Mark Vande Hei; Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov; and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi. Joining the crew aboard station the next day were Crew-2 mission crew members: Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA, JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo