Space flight has always fascinated Michi Benthaus. © OHB

"I can't become an astronaut so easily now – but nobody can do that easily!"

OHB sponsors paraplegic student who conducts experiments in weightlessness during parabolic flights

Space flight has always been one of Michaela Benthaus' greatest passions. She finds the idea that the Earth is part of something huge and that much of the universe is still unexplored absolutely fascinating. As a child, she wanted to become an astronaut and fly into space one day. Besides space, sport plays a big role in her life. In the past, the Munich native spent every free minute doing parkour or riding her mountain bike in the bike park. Four years ago, Michi had a serious accident while mountain biking and has been paraplegic ever since.

Although she is now in a wheelchair, her passions have remained the same. "My head is the same, but the physical situation has changed," Michi describes. "I have always been driven by sport and space, those are my passions and what motivates me. Sport then fell away to a large extent, even if I still play tennis and go karting – but I can still pursue working in space! After my accident, space was the thing that brought me out of despair the most. I can't become an astronaut so easily now, but nobody can do that easily."

Michi completed her Bachelor's degree in mechatronics and is currently studying Aerospace Engineering in the Master's programme at the Technical University of Munich. In autumn, she did an internship at DLR in Oberpfaffenhofen: "I worked in the area of flight dynamics for satellites (one of the topics was the operation of EnMAP), because I like orbital mechanics so much, that was pretty cool."

Another highlight is now just around the corner: on 14 December, Michi will take part in parabolic flights in the USA and conduct experiments in weightlessness. The campaign is run through the AstroAccess association, which aims to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in space research. Michi, who is sponsored by OHB, is the only German participant. Another European participant comes from Spain, while the others come from Australia, Brazil and the USA.
"It's about finding ways that people with disabilities can also fly into space and work as astronauts at some point. I'm really looking forward to it, I'm really excited about what it's like to be weightless, you can't know that until you try it out. But I'm also a bit nervous," says Michi. Each participant flies 20 parabolas and performs an experiment. While physically sound astronauts can stabilise themselves in weightlessness with the help of their feet, this is not so easy for Michi, who is paraplegic. She is therefore part of an experiment to find other ways to stabilise herself, for example with a belt around her waist using Velcro or magnets. This is important in order to be able to carry out work in weightlessness in space. Another big issue is to ensure the safety of disabled people in emergency situations. For the last five parabolas, Michi will therefore be part of an experiment to test how well people with various disabilities can leave and return to a seat in weightlessness.

Michi has already been a guest at OHB in Oberpfaffenhofen, seen the site and been shown the PLATO instrument in the clean room. Now she is looking forward to her trip to the USA and is already counting the days. Michi's manner and attitude are super inspiring, she is bubbling over with joie de vivre, is absolutely life-affirming and positive. We are very happy that Michi is getting this chance of parabolic flights and that we can support her in this, in order to additionally strengthen the important topic of inclusion in space research.

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