Europe names the world’s first disabled astronaut

Europe names the world’s first disabled astronaut

Europe names the world’s first disabled astronaut

PARIS, Nov 23 (Reuters) – The European Space Agency on Wednesday named the first ever “para-astronaut” in a major step towards allowing 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 selected for astronaut training.

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

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

He will join five new career astronauts and 11 reserves in training after ESA replenished its astronaut ranks for the first time since 2009.

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

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

Disability equality charity Scope described his election as “a huge leap forward”.

“Better representation of disabled people in influential roles will really help to improve attitudes and break down the barriers that many disabled people face today,” said the charity’s head of communications, Alison Kerry.

After a motorcycle accident led to the amputation of his right leg at the age of 19, McFall won the 100m bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.

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

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

Reporting by Tim Hepher and Yiming Woo, additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan in London; Editing by Nick Macfie, William Maclean

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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