The World’s First Disabled Astronaut Has Been Selected

European Space Agency chose former Paralympic sprinter John McFall
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 25, 2022 3:51 AM CST
Former Paralympic Athlete Is World's First 'Parastronaut'
ESA's new parastronaut John McFall, a British former Paralympic sprinter, poses during the ESA Council at Ministerial level (CM22) at the Grand Palais Ephemere, in Paris, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022.   (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

A British man who lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident when he was 19 is going to become the world's first disabled astronaut—or "parastronaut," as the European Space Agency terms it. John McFall, 41, became a Paralympic sprinter after the accident and later trained as an orthopedic surgeon, the New York Times reports. He is one of 17 people in the ESA's first class of trainee astronauts in 13 years. "I can bring inspiration that ... potentially, space is for everyone," he said at an ESA event Wednesday. He said the project to try to send a person with a disability into space "sends a really, really strong message to humanity."

The ESA says McFall was chosen to take part in its "Parastronaut Feasibility Project to improve our understanding of, and overcome, the barriers space flight presents for astronauts with a physical disability." The agency defines "parastronaut" as somebody who is "psychologically, cognitively, technically, and professionally qualified to be an astronaut," but who has a disability that would normally disqualify them due to the "requirements imposed by the use of current space hardware," the Washington Post reports. The ESA says that while it can't guarantee McFall will be sent to space, it will "commit to trying as hard and seriously as we can" to make it happen.

McFall, a married father of three, says he never dreamt of becoming an astronaut but his interest was sparked when he found out the agency was seeking a candidate with a disability. David Parker, the ESA's director of human and robotic exploration, says the project started with a question: "Maybe there are people out there that are almost superhuman in that they’ve already overcome challenges. And could they become astronauts?” NASA spokesperson Dan Huot tells the AP that the agency is watching the ESA's project "with great interest," but "NASA’s selection criteria currently remains the same." (Read more astronauts stories.)

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