The European Space Agency named the first “parastronaut” on Wednesday, marking a significant step toward allowing people with physical disabilities to work and live in space.
Former British Paralympic sprinter John McFall has been chosen as part of a new generation of 17 recruits for astronaut training by the 22-nation agency.
He will participate in a feasibility study that will allow the ESA to assess the conditions required for people with disabilities to participate in future missions.
We are honoured to introduce you to the new generation of ESA astronauts ???? #ESAastro2022
In this new class of 2022 astronauts are five career astronauts, 11 members of the astronaut reserve and one astronaut with a disability.
? https://t.co/ATzVSSXirj pic.twitter.com/yS82vtX8VQ
— ESA (@esa) November 23, 2022
“It’s been quite a whirlwind experience, given that as an amputee, I’d never thought that being an astronaut was a possibility, so excitement was a huge emotion,” McFall said in an interview posted on ESA’s website.
He will be training alongside five new career astronauts and 11 reserves after the ESA replenished its astronaut ranks for the first time since 2009.
Last year, the ESA advertised openings for people who are fully capable of passing its usual stringent psychological, cognitive, and other tests but are prevented from becoming astronauts due to the limitations of existing hardware in light of their disability.
It received 257 applications for the position of astronaut with a disability, which it refers to as a “parastronaut.” Disability equality charity Scope described his selection as “a major leap forward”.
“Better representation of disabled people in influential roles will really help improve attitudes and break down the barriers that many disabled people face today,” the charity’s Head of Communications, Alison Kerry, said.
McFall went on to win the 100m bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games despite having his right leg amputated due to a motorcycle accident when he was 19 years old.
The 31-year-old doctor will assist ESA engineers in designing hardware changes required to open professional spaceflight to a larger group of qualified candidates, according to the agency.
“I think the message that I would give to future generations is that science is for everyone and space travel hopefully can be for everyone,” McFall said.
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