Jul 21, 2023

The Right Stuff

Since the beginning of the space program, we’ve expected astronauts to be fully-abled athletic overachievers—one-part science geeks, two-part triathletes—a mix the writer Tom Wolfe called “the right stuff.”

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

In this episode from 2022, reporter Andrew Leland joins blind Linguistics Professor Sheri Wells-Jensen and a crew of 11 other disabled people. They embark on a mission to prove not just that they have what it takes to go to space, but that disability gives them an edge. On Mission AstroAccess, the crew members hop on an airplane to take a zero-gravity flightthe same NASA uses to train astronauts. With them, we learn that the challenges to making space accessible may not be the ones we thought. And Andrew, who is legally blind, confronts unexpected conclusions of his own.

By the way, Andrew’s new book is out. In The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight (https://zpr.io/nLZ8H), Andrew recounts his transition from sighted to blind. Suspended between anxiety and anticipation, he also begins to explore the many facets of blindness as a culture. It’s well worth a read. 

Read the article by Sheri Wells-Jensen, published in The Scientific American in 2018. “The Case for Disabled Astronaut” (https://zpr.io/nLZ8H). 

This episode was reported by Andrew Leland and produced by María Paz Gutiérrez, 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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