In a significant step toward enabling persons with physical disabilities to work and live in space, the European Space Agency on Wednesday announced the first-ever “parastronaut.”
The 22-nation organisation said that it had chosen former British Paralympic sprinter John McFall as one of the 17 new hires chosen for astronaut training.
He will participate in a feasibility study that will enable the ESA to determine the prerequisites for persons with impairments to participate in the next missions.
“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.
After the ESA filled its astronaut ranks for the first time since 2009, he will train with 11 reserves and five new career astronauts.
People who are completely capable of passing the ESA’s customary rigorous psychological, cognitive, and other exams were invited to apply for positions last year. These individuals are only barred from becoming astronauts because of the limitations of the available hardware in light of their disability.
It got 257 applications for the “parastronaut” position, a parallel position for astronauts with disabilities.
His appointment was called “a major leap forward” by Disability equality charity Scope.
McFall, who had his right leg amputated at the age of 19 due to a motorcycle accident, went on to take home the bronze medal in the 100-meter race at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.
The doctor, who is 31 years old, will assist ESA engineers in creating the hardware modifications required to make professional spaceflight more accessible to more qualified people, the agency stated.
(with inputs from agencies)