Mar 25, 2022

The Right Stuff

Since the beginning of the space program, we've always expected astronauts to be fully abled athletic overachievers who are one-part science-geek, two-parts triathlete—a mix the writer Tom Wolfe famously called “the right stuff.”

But what if, this whole time, we’ve had it all wrong?

In this episode, reporter Andrew Leland joins a blind linguistics professor named Sheri Wells-Jensen and a crew of eleven other disabled people on a mission to prove that disabled people have what it takes to go to space. And not only that, but that they may have an edge over non-disabled people. We follow the Mission AstroAccess crew members to Long Beach, California, where they hop on an airplane to take an electrifying flight that simulates zero-gravity—a method used by NASA to train astronauts—and afterwards learn that the biggest challenges to a future where space is accessible to all people may not be where they expected to find them. And our reporter Andrew, who is legally blind himself, confronts some unexpected conclusions of his own.

This episode was reported by Andrew Leland and produced by Maria Paz Gutierrez, Matt Kielty and Pat Walters. Jeremy Bloom contributed music and sound design. Production sound recording by Dan McCoy.

Special thanks to William Pomerantz, Sheyna Gifford, Jim Vanderploeg, Tim Bailey, and Bill Barry

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Citations in this episode

Sheri Wells-Jensen’s SETI Institute presentation

Learn more about Mission AstroAccess

Other work by Andrew Leland

Sheri Wells-Jensen’s, “The Case for Disabled Astronauts,” Scientific American

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