European Space Agency appoints first astronaut with a disability Pipa News

European Space Agency appoints first astronaut with a disability

The European Space Agency on Wednesday declared the world’s first “parastronaut,” an important step towards enabling people with physical disabilities to work and live in space.

The 22-nation agency said it had selected former British Paralympic sprinter John McFall as part of a new generation of 17 recruits chosen for astronaut training.

He will participate in a feasibility study designed to enable ESA to assess the conditions needed for people with disabilities to participate in future missions.

“It was quite a whirlwind experience considering that as an amputee I never thought being an astronaut was a possibility, so excitement was a huge emotion,” McFall said in an interview on ESA’s website.

He will enter training alongside five new career astronauts and 11 reserve astronauts after ESA replenished its astronaut ranks for the first time since 2009.

These 17 astronaut candidates were among more than 22,500 candidates who submitted a valid application in 2021 in response to ESA’s call for new astronauts for missions to the International Space Station and beyond. In the spring of 2023, they will begin a 12-month basic training at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre. (ESA/P. Sebirot)

ESA last year placed openings for people who are fully capable of passing the usual rigorous psychological, cognitive and other tests, which are only prevented from becoming astronauts because of the limitations of existing hardware in light of their disability.

It received 257 applications for the role of an astronaut with a disability, a parallel role it calls “paraastronaut.”

Scope, a disability equality charity, described its selection as “a big step forward”.

“Better representation of people with disabilities in influential roles will really help improve attitudes and remove the barriers many people with disabilities face today,” said Alison Kerry, the charity’s head of communications.

After a motorcycle accident that left his right leg amputated at the age of 19, McFall went on to win the 100m bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.

The 31-year-old doctor will help ESA engineers design hardware changes needed to open professional aerospace to a wider pool of qualified candidates, the agency said.

“I think the message I would like to give to future generations is that science is for everyone and space travel can hopefully be for everyone,” McFall said.

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