First disabled astronaut in history chosen by European Space Agency

A write introduces the 'Parastronaut Feasibility Project, and the former British Paralympic medallist selected for the exclusive program

Matthew Barratt
10th May 2023
A write introduces the 'Parastronaut Feasibility Project, and the former British Paralympic medallist selected for the exclusive program
Paralympic sprinter John McFall has been chosen to partake in the European Space Agency’s 'Parastronaut Feasibility Project'.Selected out of 257 applicants with physical disabilities, John McFall is now the world’s first ‘parastronaut’, chosen specifically by the ESA to assess how spaceflight can be made easily accessible for those with similar physical disabilities.

After a leg amputation following a motorcycle accident at age 19, McFall took up running and won gold medals in the 100m and 200m sprints at the World Wheelchair and Amputee Games in 2007. Following this, McFall went on to compete at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics where he won a bronze medal in the 100m sprint with a time of 13.08 seconds. Following this, he worked as an ambassador for the Paralympic Committee at the 2012 London Olympics. A graduate of Medicine and Surgery from Cardiff University, he is a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and works as an Orthopedic Specialist in Hampshire, a job that he put on temporary hold after applying for the ESA’s project.

After a leg amputation following a motorcycle accident at age 19, McFall took up running and won gold medals in the 100m and 200m sprints at the World Wheelchair and Amputee Games in 2007. Following this, McFall went on to compete at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics where he won a bronze medal in the 100m sprint with a time of 13.08 seconds

Alongside 16 other astronauts, McFall will be stationed at the European Astronaut Centre located in Cologne, Germany in which he will undergo 12-month training before they are assigned a mission. Part of this training involves parabolic flights that take place onboard a plane adapted specifically for the parabolic process. The participants experience twice as much gravity as usual due to the steep flight of the plane before the lane nosedives, causing approximately 20 seconds of weightlessness. By replicating an environment like zero-gravity, the astronauts can adapt to these conditions as part of their training.

During this whole process, McFall’s participation of basic training and the mission itself will help the ESA assess the current living and working conditions for the partaking astronauts and make changes where possible to accommodate those with physical disabilities. Their primary goal is to help make space travel a more inclusive environment for those with physical disabilities. As a leg amputee who has been able to adapt to his circumstance and thrive, McFall’s involvement is a great starting volunteer for the ESA to assess as opposed to someone with a more severe and restrictive physical disability such as a spinal cord injury or cerebral palsy.

McFall has not secured a mission to space yet due to the potential risks. However if accepted, he and the other astronauts will travel to the ISS and potentially the moon.

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