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High-Tech and Low-Tech Solutions for Access to Outer Space for Disabled Astronauts


Sherri Wells-Jensen

NASA/Library of Congress


For the first decades of the human space program, standards for who would become an astronaut were almost impossibly strict, and the idea of disabled people in space  was the domain of speculative science fiction.  But, with the rise of the private space companies, things began to change. Private astronauts have included people with advanced arthritis, artificial femurs, and hearing loss. Definitions of ‘fit to fly’ are changing, and the work of making space accessible has begun in earnest.

In April 2023, the Space Analog for the Moon and Mars (SAM) hosted two consecutive four-person missions each containing one fully blind crew member.  Analog missions, often referred to as ‘space habitats without rockets’ are one of the primary ways equipment, techniques and crew configurations are tested before deployment to space.  This paper describes how these crews assessed access in the analog habitat, and what changes they were able to make.

Access solutions ranged from electronic instruments (such as an accessible LabQuest and Vernier sensors) to time-tested solutions like bump dots and braille labels made with slate and stylus.  The paper concludes with thoughts on next steps for space habitat accessibility.