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European Space Agency names world’s first disabled astronaut


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The European Space Agency on Wednesday named the first “parastronaut” in a major step towards enabling people with physical disabilities to work and live in space.

The 22-nation agency said it had selected former British Paralympic sprinter John McFall as part of a new generation of 17 recruits chosen for training as astronauts. He will participate in a feasibility study that will allow ESA to assess the conditions necessary for people with disabilities to participate in future missions.

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“It’s been a pretty turbulent experience as, as an amputee, I never thought being an astronaut was a possibility, so the excitement was a huge thrill,” McFall said in an interview posted on the ESA website.

He will join five new career astronauts and 11 reserves in training after the ESA replenished its astronaut ranks for the first time since 2009.

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The ESA announced vacancies last year for people who are fully capable of passing their usual psychological, cognitive and other tests, who are only prevented from becoming astronauts due to existing hardware restrictions because of their disability.

He received 257 applications from astronaut candidates with a disability, a parallel role he calls “parastronaut”.

Disability equality charity Scope described his selection as “a huge leap forward”.

“Increased representation of people with disabilities in influential roles will really help improve attitudes and break down the barriers that many people with disabilities face today,” said Alison Kerry, head of communications for the charity.

After a motorcycle accident that caused the amputation of his right leg at the age of 19, McFall won a bronze medal in the 100 meters at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

The 31-year-old doctor will help ESA engineers design changes to the hardware needed to open up professional spaceflight to a wider pool of qualified applicants, the agency said.

“I think the message I would give to future generations is that science is for everyone and space travel can be for everyone,” McFall said.

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I have worked in the news industry for over 10 years and have been an author at News Bulletin 247 for the past 5 years. I mostly cover technology news and enjoy writing about the latest gadgets and devices. I am also a huge fan of music and enjoy attending live concerts whenever possible.

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