In what it hopes will be the first step toward sending a person with a disability to space, the European Space Agency (ESA) has chosen a person with a physical disability to be a part of its upcoming astronaut class.
John McFall is a 41-year-old former British paralympic sprinter who is now a doctor. He is one of 17 candidates picked from 22,500 applicants to join the space agency’s 2022 astronaut class.
The third generation of European space travelers consists of five career astronauts, 11 reserve astronauts, and one astronaut with a physical disability. The ESA’s request for applicants with physical disabilities was open to anyone with a lower limb deficiency. People of short stature, who are less than 4 feet, 3 inches tall, were also eligible.
The selected candidates will now spend a year at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany, receiving basic training in space technology, science, and medicine. Next, they will move on to the next phase of Space Station training. Here they will learn how to control station elements and transport vehicles. McFall, who lost his leg at 19, is also a Paralympic athlete, having won bronze in 2008. He represented the United Kingdom in sprinting.
McFall will take part in the European Space Agency’s “Paranaut Feasibility Project.” The ESA said the program will develop options for the inclusion of astronauts with physical disabilities in human spaceflight and possible future missions.” There is no guarantee that he will go to space. However, the agency has said it will “commit to trying as hard and seriously as we can” to make it happen.
I hope that Mr. McFall has an opportunity to go into space. It would be exciting to see an astronaut with a disability go to space. Technological advancements are allowing people with disabilities to do unimaginable things. McFall represents these advancements, and this opportunity should open up discussions about how people with disabilities can better participate in society.
Hunt, Katie. “European Space Agency Announces First ‘Parastronaut’.” CNN, Cable News Network, 23 Nov. 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/11/23/world/european-space-agency-new-astronaut-class-disability-scn/index.html.
Sands, Leo. “Meet John McFall, the World’s First Astronaut with a Disability.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 24 Nov. 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/11/24/esa-john-mcfall-disabled-parastronaut-space/.