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

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Context


As a human race, our most intractable challenges—poverty, climate change, pandemic—happen on a global scale. Space exploration puts that scale into perspective and calls us to reimagine what divides and connects us as people. When we reached the moon and the world was able to see our pale blue dot from afar, we realized how important it was to protect it.

AstroAccess is dedicated to advancing disability inclusion in space exploration, not just for the benefit of marginalized communities, but for the benefit of all humankind. This project is the first step in the direction of a new reality, where disabled astronauts not only exist but are trusted crew members, essential to the mission. When disabled people have equitable access to all jobs, taking on humanity’s most complex tasks, perspectives change. Access to space changes the worldview not only of aspiring explorers, but of those that employ them, and most importantly, those that look up to them. By generating new opportunities for disabled scientists to succeed and by providing activists a platform, we have the power to inspire the next generation of scientists and world-changers.
Stellar Amenities is honored to contribute 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 system to assist future space explorers

Client

Mission: AstroAccess

DATE

2021

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.

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 system 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 Spring 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 system 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