A disabled British man has been chosen for astronaut training by Europe’s space agency, a world first.
John McFall, 41, joined 16 men and women selected for the European Space Agency’s (Esa) first new class of astronauts in 13 years.
His right leg was amputated after a motorcycle crash when he was 19. He became a professional athlete and represented Team GB at the Paralympics.
Another British woman, Rosemary Coogan, was selected as a career astronaut.
Esa said it wanted to widen the definition of what it means to have “the right stuff” to go into space.
This announcement does not mean McFall is guaranteed to go into orbit. Instead, he will be part of a feasibility programme to see what the requirements would be for that to be possible.
McFall, who won a bronze medal at the Paralympic Games in 2008 in the T42 200 metres, said he was proud and grateful to have been given the opportunity in “such a brave and bold project”.
He told the BBC he had not previously considered becoming an astronaut but felt compelled to apply when he saw the opportunity.
“When Esa announced that they were looking for candidates with a physical disability to run this astronaut feasibility project, I looked at the person specification and it just kind of jumped out to me,” he said.
“I felt so inspired by it. I felt compelled to apply.”
Esa will be working with Nasa on the feasibility study. They need to establish first that a para-astronaut’s inclusion wouldn’t compromise crew safety. It’s also possible the space vehicles in which they travel will need adaptations.
“It’s really important for us to involve everybody that has an excitement about space,” said Dr David Parker, Esa’s director of human and robotic space exploration.
“We’re making a first step by opening up this call to people that have certain types of physical disability, and we really hope we’ll be flying them on a mission to the International Space Station,” he told BBC News. (BBC)