The pan-European team will investigate the physiological foundations for sending parastronauts – astronauts with a physical disability – into space.
Dr Irene Di Giulio, a Lecturer in the Centre for Human & Applied Physiological Sciences (CHAPS), will lead a ‘Topical Team’ that includes CHAPS-based researchers, after being awarded funding by the European Space Agency (ESA).
Topical Teams (TTs) are ESA-funded projects that support scientific research by creating forums based on a specific topic of interest to the ESA and its future scientific direction. The TT is set to begin on Friday 1 July, under the leadership of Irene di Giulio.
The new project includes King’s-based researchers in the Centre for Human & Applied Physiological Sciences, as well as researchers in the UK Civil Aviation Authority, international collaborators in the German Aerospace Centre and University of Padova and lay members in Aerobility.
The new TT will support the ESA’s investigation of the physiological foundation for parastronauts, who are currently being selected. Parastronaut refers to an astronaut with a physical disability. Traditionally, parastronauts that were otherwise qualified would have been unable to be considered for astronaut programmes.
The project is seeking parastronauts with either a lower limb deficiency (i.e. an injury/deficiency in the ankle or lower leg), asymmetrical leg length, or people who are shorter than 130cm (approximately 4’3″). This research will work alongside investigations into adapting heavy space hardware so they can be operated by parastronauts, a significant barrier in current selection criteria for spaceflight.
We are very excited about this project and ESA’s endorsement. In space the environment changes dramatically, and our team wants to understand what physiological changes can be expected, what tools and technologies need to be developed for a successful and inclusive space mission, and whether some disabilities may be better suited to the space environment.– Dr Irene Di Giulio, Lecturer in Anatomy and Biomechanics
In the long term, this research promises to make space exploration more inclusive of people with physical disabilities, opening future projects to new and talented astronauts. The improvements in the usability and safety of equipment in spacecraft can also potentially benefit all astronauts.