Paralympian becomes the world’s first ‘parastronaut’

23 Nov 2022

John McFall. Image: P Sebirot/ESA

British Paralympian John McFall has been selected as part of the European Space Agency’s astronaut class of 2022.

Days after NASA launched Artemis I on its lunar journey, the European Space Agency (ESA) has named the next generation of astronauts who could be heading to space. This includes the world’s first astronaut with a physical disability.

British Paralympian John McFall, who will join the ‘parastronaut’ programme, is among the ESA’s class of 2022 revealed at a conference in Paris today (23 November).

The ESA began recruiting astronauts early last year, when it opened a call for the first time since 2008 and received almost 10,000 applications.

A total of 17 new astronaut candidates were selected, with almost half of the class of 2022 being women. In the previous astronaut recruitment drive, only one woman was selected.

Although 22 Irish applicants – nine women and 13 men – were picked by the ESA in the first phase of astronaut selection, none of them made the final line-up.

The incoming cohort will now join the ESA training corps. There may be the opportunity to join the Artemis missions that the ESA is providing critical hardware for, which could see the first European to walk on the moon.

McFall, who lost his right leg following a motorcycle accident when he was 19, is a trauma and orthopaedic specialist registrar by profession.

He has also represented the UK as a Paralympic sprinter. He won the bronze medal in the 100m sprint at the Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008.

McFall will take part in the parastronaut feasibility project to see what needs to be adapted and redesigned to include astronauts with physical disabilities in spaceflight in the future.

Of the 17 people selected, five will join the ESA as ‘career’ or full-time astronauts, while the others will continue their day jobs and remain on call for potential missions.

The five new career astronauts are Marco Sieber from Switzerland, Raphaël Liégeois from Belgium, Pablo Álvarez Fernández from Spain, Sophie Adenot from France and Rosemary Coogan from the UK.

There are also reserve astronauts from the UK, Italy, Spain, Austria, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland and Sweden.

“This is an extraordinary time for human spaceflight and for Europe,” said David Parker, ESA director of human and robotic exploration.

“After the successful launch of Artemis I with ESA’s European service module powering Orion to the moon, we are on the forefront of human space exploration. We are delighted to have this group of extremely talented people to continue European science and operations on the International Space Station and beyond.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic