Disabilities as enabling for space travel

So, the other day I listened to a presentation from the FISO (Future In-Space Operations) working group. They have regular online telecons which anyone can listen to and follow along after the fact on their web archive:

It was titled “Preparing to Survive: The Case for Disabled Astronauts and Colonists”

I highly recommend this one as it’s off the beaten path, out of the box, and has some very interesting things I hadn’t considered before.

One of the most fascinating things I learned is:
Some deaf people are complete immune from dizziness from (for example) short-arm centrifuges. That certainly makes artificial gravity easier. Trivial, even.

Another was a more philosophical point. We’re going to bring our humanity with us. We can’t rely on the fighter jock physique. Even if we start that way, injuries can easily happen along the way, so we better be thinking about designing our spaceships and habitats with accessibility in mind. And maybe.. Just maybe… if everyone is blinded from long-duration exposure to microgravity or from smoke or some chemical accident, it might help to have someone on board not reliant on sight. Or at least you should have a spaceship that is still usable without relying on perfect sight. Or if everyone is disoriented on landing on Mars from months in microgravity, having someone immune to dizziness to guide you might also prove useful.

Very thought-provoking talk. I recommend it.

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6 Responses to Disabilities as enabling for space travel

  1. George Turner says:

    When I was in college I knew an Indian engineering student who had polio. One of his presentations for NASA showed that a person such as himself, with weakened legs, is almost ideal for space travel because legs are not particularly useful in zero G. I think he might have even suggested that double amputees are even more optimal. It would certainly simplify the space suit and cabin layout.

  2. Philip Hahn says:

    I always thought a retirement home in LEO would have a niche market. Microgravity should improve quality of life for the bedridden, those with osteoporosis, etc. The biggest problem is seeing the kids/grandkids in the near term until cost to LEO gets stupid cheap and safe.

  3. gbaikie says:

    An interesting question is how soon should we be considering this. And it seems we already late in considering this. As in should have been considering 10 years ago.

  4. whitelaughter says:

    Given the costs of launch, simply not having legs would be a major advantage since every kilo of missing flesh reduces the expense by thousands.

    NASA knows the effect that entering orbit has on your eyes, so would be able to tell whether becoming an astronaut would cure your vision.

    The large number of people with problems with their immune systems would love living somewhere they cannot be infected by anything; and this includes the possibility of simply shutting down the immune systems of people with autoimmune conditions.

    Phillip Hahn: the ability to remain in constant electronic contact would likely be sufficient for many people, and that should become more common as dependence on social media grows.

  5. whitelaughter says:

    ok, having listened to the link….
    30 years ago, when I was studying management and my then fiance was studying disability studies, we could have given a better intro.

    My management lecturer insisted that given a choice between two roughly equal candidates, you should always take the disabled candidate first. He gave two reasons for this: firstly that the disability meant that the candidate was constantly problem solving, secondly that because of the limits placed on them by society they inevitably through themselves into any project, to prove themselves to society.

    A common rant of my fiance was people trying to be ‘helpful’ and not thinking things through. The example that sticks with me 30 years later – the business that built a ramp to their front door…but there was a step at the top of the ramp, that no wheelchair could possibly navigate. Of course, you couldn’t see the step until you’d already got to the top of the ramp, and once you were there, turning around was a nightmare due to lack of space. doing nothing would have been preferable.

    Disabilities cause problems that aren’t obvious to people without those disabilities. *Each * disability will cause different problems, so spacecraft designs will need to be looked at by as many differently disabled people as possible.

    There were some good points in the talk – Air crash example good. Redundancy example correct; easy for disabilities benefits everyone. Astronauts becoming disabled over time is inevitable.

    Another possibility is if someone always has a specific injury, that may be ideal for reducing future injuries – thus iirc suddenly entering vacuum can pop your eye balls out, if the astronaut doesn’t have eyes this injury cannot occur.

    children – growth in zero-g more important than launch; children can heal anything but growing wrong is serious.

    the modify yourself problem will get serious – people will be want to lose weight to reduce the commercial cost of entering space; this could get very creepy. Amputation and extreme dehydration are obvious ways to try and skimp on costs! Being on a launch with extremely dehydrated people coping with newly missing limbs would not be fun. And as artificial limbs continue to improve, the option will grow ever more tempting.

  6. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Not sure you’d want full microgravity for retirement, but I’ve often speculated that hypogravity, say in the 0.5-0.7G range could be pretty interesting. Enough acceleration to keep fluids settled, and provide some loading for keeping bones from decalcifying, but low enough that fall damage is much lower, and low enough that people are encouraged to be a lot more active than they might be in 1 full gravity.


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