Eagle Scout strives to promote disability inclusion in space exploration

As a filmmaker, actor and broadcaster, Eagle Scout Zach Damon has an impressively packed career. However, his passion for advancing the aspirations of people who have disabilities has launched him into a whole other pursuit.

Damon spends much of his free time volunteering for AstroAccess, a philanthropic organization that promotes disability inclusion in the field of space exploration.

Zach Damon stands in front of the zero-gravity plane at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston. Photo courtesy of Zach Damon

“What inspired me to volunteer and work with AstroAccess was my passion for disability inclusion, flight and space exploration,” Damon says. “I was born with cerebral palsy. From my experience, I understand that inclusion is paramount if sustainable progress is to be made on the planet as well as within future space missions.”

What is AstroAccess?

Co-founder and executive director Anna Voelker says AstroAccess, part of the SciAccess nonprofit organization, is dedicated to promoting disability inclusion in space exploration through a variety of programs, including a series of zero-gravity flights. 

“These flights essentially allow researchers to experience microgravity in 20 to 25 second bursts — eventually experiencing weightlessness,” Voelker says. “At AstroAccess, we’ve provided an opportunity for researchers with disabilities — AstroAccess Ambassadors — to do experiments, demonstrations and tasks geared toward answering accessibility questions and finding solutions for space vehicles and future space stations.”

The overall goal is to see if all astronauts and explorers, regardless of any disability on Earth, can live, work and thrive in space.

Damon, with Anna Voelker, co-founder of AstroAccess. Photo courtesy of AstroAccess

Damon says being a part of AstroAccess is the opportunity of a lifetime.

“I believe strongly in the mission of AstroAccess in promoting disability inclusion in space exploration, and I am humbled and honored to work with so many extraordinary people on the Astro Access team,” Damon says. 

As the deputy director of development, Damon assists with the partnerships and fundraising that support AstroAccess. In other words, he manages relations with financial and in-kind partners and heads fundraising efforts and sponsorship requests for future zero-gravity mission flights. 

So far, there have been five flights in all, including two full flights with an entire crew.

Filmmaker, actor and broadcaster

6-year-old Zach Damon visits with legendary University of Michigan football announcer Frank Beckman at a March of Dimes event. Photo courtesy of Zach Damon

Whenever Damon isn’t working at AstroAccess, he’s entertaining the public by producing local television, radio and web-based media content in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Damon got a head start in entertainment at an early age.

“At 6, I started public speaking and volunteered with the March of Dimes organization. Eventually, I became a goodwill ambassador, helping to raise awareness to improve the health of babies by preventing congenital disabilities, premature birth and infant mortality,” Damon says. “This then led to my interest in the entertainment industry as a career.”

Damon appreciated being surrounded by influential people in the entertainment industry. He described it as a great experience and a blessing. However, he says it was his determination and drive that ultimately paid off the most.

Zach Damon on the set of the late-night TV show Ann Arbor Tonight in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Zach Damon

 

 

“It was up to me to apply the experience, get the education, the training and do my best to hone the craft. In my opinion, showbusiness is the best business, but like most worthwhile endeavors, nothing is given — it’s earned,” Damon says.

He also credits Scouting for his positive endeavors. Damon said the biggest lesson he learned in Scouting was that challenge is good. 

“Although uncomfortable at first, the skills you learn in Scouting make you comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Damon says. “Scouting purposely puts you in situations that challenge you to problem solve, work as a unit and accomplish a goal, just like any AstroAccess Zero-Gravity Flight or NASA Astronaut Mission.” 

10-year-old Zach receives his Webelos neckerchief. Photo courtesy of Zach Damon

Damon encourages Scouts to always Be Prepared, do their best, be brave, be kind, have fun, make lifelong friends and strive to attain Eagle Scout. 

“Eagle is one of the few accomplishments while you’re young that stays with you the rest of your life,” Damon says.

Up next for Damon and AstroAccess

The next flight for AstroAccess is in May 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. Voelker says AstroAccess has an open call for interested applicants. Ambassadors are selected from around the world to participate in the zero-gravity missions. They also work with ground crew members to design a series of accessibility experiments and demonstrations.

“We’ve had people from all backgrounds, so they don’t need to be a scientist or engineer,” Voelker says. “Things that we look for are a demonstrated commitment to disability justice and making sure we’re compatible.”

Volunteer opportunities are also available for high school, college students and adults. Visit astroaccess.org for more information.

“I think there’s a great variety of professional development opportunities for students,” Voelker says. “I encourage anyone with a disability or is passionate about space to reach out to us.”

Zach Damon on location of his latest film project, the indie romantic comedy Get Real, set to be released on Amazon later this year. Photo courtesy of Zach Damon

As for Damon, he plans to continue to help with the AstroAccess development process. He also hopes to earn his spot on an AstroAccess Zero-Gravity Mission Flight Crew. In the meantime, he’ll also keep producing content under Zach Damon Productions, LLC, hoping to one day be part of an Emmy and Academy award-winning production team.

About Sheniece Chappell 13 Articles
Sheniece Chappell is an associate editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines.