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ESA's new parastronaut John McFall, a British former Paralympic sprinter
John McFall will take part in a potentially groundbreaking feasibility study to explore whether physical disability will impair space travelImage: Francois Mori/AP Photo/picture alliance

European Space Agency names first disabled astronaut

November 23, 2022

Paralympic sprinter John McFall will help ESA in creating conditions for people with disabilities to travel to space. Another five astronauts were selected out of a pool of 22,000 applicants.

https://p.dw.com/p/4Jxts

The European Space Agency (ESA) unveiled its newest recruits on Wednesday, with two women and three men and the world's first "parastronaut" making up the new class.

According to the ESA, no major Western agency has ever sent a "parastronaut" to space. 

The new class includes "astronauts with a physical disability" that "will start a 12-month basic training at ESA's European Astronaut Center in spring 2023," the agency said. 

ESA  said it appointed British Paralympic sprinter John McFall to take part in a feasibility study during astronaut training.

"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.

While his recruitment is a first, McFall still has a long way to go to be part of a space mission. He has been selected to assess the conditions needed for people with disabilities to take part in future missions, the 22-nation agency said. 

McFall has worked as a trauma and orthopedic specialist in the south of England. He had his leg amputated after a motorcycle accident.

He subsequently went on to represent Britain as a Paralympic sprinter at the 2008 event in Beijing involving athletes with a range of physical disabilities.

John McFall of Great Britain in the men's 200m at the Paralympic world cup at the Manchester Regional Arena, Manchester, in 2007
McFall represented the UK as a Paralympic sprinter.Image: ANDREW YATES/AFP

New class of astronauts

Five career astronauts were selected from more than 22,000 applicants. More women than ever applied to be a part of the program.

From the applicants, the ESA chose two women: France's Sophie Adenot and Britain's Rosemary Coogan.Adenot is a 40-year-old air helicopter test pilot with around 3,000 hours of flying experience, while Coogan, 31, has an astronomy doctorate from the University of Sussex. 

Spain's Pablo Alvarez Fernandez, Belgium's Raphael Liegeois and Switzerland's Marco Sieber were also selected for the new class.

It was ESA's first recruitment drive in more than a decade, that also aimed to bring diversity to space travel.

Budget increase

The ESA also announced a significant budget increase of 17% compared to the previous budget, although the initial target was an increase of 18%.

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said that the agency would receive a total of €16.9 billion ($17.5 billion) from its 22 member states.

The German government said it would contribute to ESA's budget with €4 billion.

The budget is set to mainly cover programs to explore the Moon and Mars.

The ESA will also continue to participate in the International Space Station (ISS) until 2030.

ESA discusses future missions to the moon

fb, jsi/dj (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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