AstroAccess: Tactile Navigation for Space Travel

The 12 ambassadors ahead of their flight. Image: Al Powers for Zero Gravity Corporation

The 12 ambassadors ahead of their flight. Image: Al Powers for Zero Gravity Corporation

The 12 ambassadors ahead of their flight Image: Al Powers for Zero Gravity Corporation

The 12 ambassadors ahead of their flight Image: Al Powers for Zero Gravity Corporation

Back

Context

Mission: AstroAccess is a project dedicated to promoting disability inclusion in space exploration by paving the way for disabled astronauts in STEM by launching disabled scientists, veterans, students, athletes, and artists on parabolic flights with the Zero Gravity Corporation, as the first step in a progression toward flying a diverse range of people to space. These "AstroAccess Ambassadors" experience weightlessness and carry out lunar gravity, Martian gravity, and zero gravity observations and experiments investigating how the physical environment aboard space vessels should be modified so that all astronauts and explorers, regardless of disability on Earth, can live, work, and thrive in space. AstroAccess Ambassadors not only participate in a parabolic flight but also use their platform to act as public advocates for global disability access in STEM. This project is part of the SciAccess Initiative, an international organization dedicated to advancing disability inclusion in STEM.
Stellar Amenities is honored to contribute, amongst other partners, to the historical Zero-G Flight 1 launching 12 disabled ambassadors. Our focus was to provide navigation tools to aid low vision/blind users in wayfinding in weightlessness, making space accessible for everyone.
SUMMARY

Directional navigation samples to assist future space explorers

Client

Mission: AstroAccess

DATE

2021

team

Anastasia Prosina, Robert Salazar, Amanda Allen, Jan-Michael Rossman

The 12 Ambassadors of AstroAccess’ Flight 1 in front of Zero G Corporation’s G-Force One aircraft on the tarmac of Long Beach Airport.   From left to right, back row:  Mary Cooper, Cheri Wells-Jensen, Eric Shear, Apurva Varia, Sina Bahram, Zuby Onwuta, Mona Minkara, Viktoria Modesta  Front row:  Sawyer Rosenstein, Dana Bolles, Eric Ingram, Centra Mazyck

The 12 ambassadors ahead of their flight. Image: Al Powers for Zero Gravity Corporation

Research

After deep research on the topic, we found that the navigational aids currently available were inadequate for navigating in 0G, given the difficulties of locating handles and reading braille in unknown orientations. There was certainly room for improvement here, so we decided to tackle the design of handles and tactile textiles that could offer the stability and environmental awareness to navigate in 0G by touching in any direction.

Our research focus was to explore diverse set of textiles that exhibited a wide variety of tactile properties, such as unidirectionality, relief height, directional contrast, feature size, shape, spacing, frequency, and proportion.

On the whole, we acquired twelve samples, one origami tessellation, one faux viper skin, one set of artificial mohair skins, and nine embroidery samples that were most rapid to prototype, exhibiting an array of tactile features at a constant relief height. Though no one sample would be ideal, we hoped to discover what features or combinations of features would be most desirable for further exploration and development into a high fidelity navigational surface.



Making these kinds of updates is not just about being inclusive but also about making flights safer for every astronaut. For Example, when astronaut Chris Hadfield went temporarily blind during a spacewalk when cleaning solution squirted into his eye.

Not only were the developments we are exploring unprecedented in navigational aid in general but that we needed to continue development and see their implementation in the world at large."
- Sina Bahram, Founder of Prime Access Consulting (PAC)
SUMMARY

Directional navigation samples to assist future space explorers

Client

Mission: AstroAccess

DATE

2021

Astronaut Cady Coleman and a zero-g flight veteran Tim Bailey are testing navigation samples. Image: Stellar Amenities

Steps forward

With the feedback from Cady Coleman, the distinguished astronaut, and three blind/low vision ambassadors: Sina Bahram, Azubuike (Zuby) Onwuta, Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen, we have gotten a great sense of direction on further refinements and development.

Not only did we see if these textures are helpful and valuable for the ambassadors but also realized that there is a greater potential
to make the world more inclusive using learnings from the zero-g testing! Incorporating Cady’s experience navigating the space station with what Sina expressed about navigation aids, we believe we can bring us closer to the future where space is truly for everyone.

Stellar Amenities is continuing working with AstroAccess, with a consequent zero-g flight in Fall 2022, and we cannot wait to share more details.

Now Mission: AstroAccess has plenty of new data to help suggest what kind of accessibility-related changes should be incorporated in future spacecraft. That might include directional fabrics on the walls, for instance, to help those with limited vision determine their orientation."
SUMMARY

Directional navigation samples to assist future space explorers

Client

Mission: AstroAccess

DATE

2021

With the chairman and former CEO of Virgin Galactic George Whitesides, holding origami tactile navigation panel with furry zero-g indicators. Image: Stellar Amenities

Our CTO Robert Salazar is testing the directionality of the faux viper skin. Image: Stellar Amenities

/ mission partners