The European Space Agency on Wednesday the world’s first astronaut with a disability. John McFall, whose right leg was amputated at age 19, is the first recruit for a new program investigating housing for astronauts with disabilities.
The agency was calling for applications in March 2021, looking for people with disabilities who could pass rigorous physical and psychological tests but were limited by a lack of hardware housing. The program will examine the changes and costs required to send astronauts with disabilities into space. ESA selected McFall from 257 applicants, calling him the world’s first “parastronaut”. And next spring he will start the 12-month training program at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne.
“I’ve always been very interested in science in general, and space exploration has always been on my radar,” McFall, 41, said Wednesday. “But after being in a motorcycle accident when I was 19, a disability was always a contraindication, as was the desire to join the army.”
After McFall’s accident and amputation, he learned to walk again and won a bronze medal in the 100-meter dash at the 2008 Paralympic Games. He also holds several medical degrees and was a Foundation Doctor in the British National Health Service from 2014 to 2016. McFall currently works as a trauma and orthopedic specialist in southern England.
“In early 2021, when the ad for an astronaut with a physical disability came out,” McFall said, “I read the person specifications and what they included, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is such a huge and interesting opportunity.’ And I thought I’d be a very good candidate to help ESA answer the question they were asking, “Can we put someone with a physical disability into space?” And I felt compelled to apply.”
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