British Paralympian Named European Space Agency’s First Disabled Astronaut
John McFall, from Frimley in Surrey, has been selected by the ESA to become the first ever disabled astronaut.
He will be joining their space training programme, working with engineers and designers in a feasibility study to determine necessary redesigns and adaptations for the mission.
The 41-year-old lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident aged 19, but this didn’t stop him. He went on to compete for Great Britain in the Paralympic Games, and is now making history once again.
McFall says he hopes to inspire others and highlight that “science is for everyone… and potentially space is for everyone.”
Over 22,000 people applied to the ESA’s life-changing programme. This is 2.5 times the interest level received in their last competitive process in 2008.
The ESA revealed its “Class of 2022” today, which includes another six full-time astronauts – among these was British astronomer Rosemary Coogan. Coogan has two master’s degrees from the University of Durham, and a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Sussex.
UK science minister George Freeman called today a brilliant day for “British science and British values”. He added that he is proud the UK “will be the first country to put a para-astronaut in space and show that space is indeed the new frontier. […] It’s where we destroy the barriers that are holding back this planet and mankind.”
The ESA intentionally selected candidates with physical difficulties for this project. The agency hopes this will help to build a more sustainable future for disabled people in space.
This is an enormous milestone in the space sector’s history. While space may have once been for the few, this is becoming ever further from the truth. Concentrated efforts like these are going to blow the sector wide open for a whole new demographic of space lovers, taking them to places many thought they’d never reach.
We’re wishing McFall and the rest of ESA’s Class of 2022 the best of luck on this adventure of a lifetime.