John McFall: European Space Agency announces first ‘parastronaut’

Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news of fascinating discoveries, scientific advances and more.


For the first time in 13 years, the European Space Agency has announced a new batch of aspiring astronauts, including the world’s first ‘parastronaut’.

The third generation of Europeans spacefarers includes five career astronauts, 11 of which are members a reserve pool of astronauts and an astronaut with a physical disability, who will participate in a feasibility project to involve astronauts with disabilities in human spaceflight and possible future missions. The 17 were chosen from more than 22,500 candidates from all over Europe.

“This ESA astronaut class brings ambition, talent and diversity in many different forms – to drive our endeavors and our future,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said in a press release, referring to the “ongoing low orbit exploration of the earth on the International Space Station, on our way to the moon – and beyond.”

Five new recruits, three men and two women, begin a 12-month basic training at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany. to enable them to reach the standard specified by the International Space Station partners, the space agency said. The candidates are Sophie Adenot, Pablo Álvarez Fernández, Rosemary Coogan, Raphaël Liégeois and John McFall.

It is the first time the space agency has established an astronaut reserve, made up of candidates who have successfully completed the selection process but have not been recruited. Astronauts on the reserve will remain with their current employer and will receive a consultancy contract.

McFall, a British medic and Paralympian, said he felt compelled to apply when he saw ESA’s advertisement for an astronaut with a physical disability. His right leg was amputated after a motorcycle accident when he was 19.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is such a huge, interesting opportunity,'” McFall said in a video posted on ESA’s website. “I thought I would be a very good candidate to help ESA answer the question they asked, ‘Can we get a person with a physical disability into space?'”

The ESA’s call for applicants with physical disabilities was open to those with a lower extremity abnormality or considered short in stature – less than 130 centimeters or 4 feet, 3 inches.

The space agency has been heavily involved in NASA’s Artemis mission to put humans back on the moon, and with ESA hopes that the first European to set foot on the moon will belong to this class of astronauts.

The space agency also agreed on Wednesday a new budget of 16.9 billion euros ($17.5 billion) for the next three years – an increase of 17% compared to 2019.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *