Space diversity: Europe’s space agency gets 1st parastronaut

Nov 22, 2022, 12:08 PM | Updated: Nov 26, 2022, 3:21 pm

PARIS (AP) — The European Space Agency made history Wednesday by selecting an amputee who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident to be among its newest batch of astronauts — a leap toward its pioneering ambition to send someone with a physical disability into space.

John McFall, a 41-year-old Briton who lost his right leg when he was 19 and went on to compete in the Paralympics, called his selection at Europe’s answer to NASA “a real turning point and mark in history.”

“ESA has a commitment to send an astronaut with a physical disability into space … This is the first time that a space agency has endeavored to embark on a project like this. And it sends a really, really strong message to humanity,” he said.

The newly-minted parastronaut joins five career astronauts in the final selection unveiled during a Paris news conference — the conclusion of the agency’s first recruitment drive in over a decade aimed at bringing diversity to space travel.

The list also included two women: France’s Sophie Adenot and the UK’s Rosemary Coogan, new ambassadors for another greatly underrepresented section for European astronauts. A small minority of those who have explored space have been women, and most of those were Americans.

Wednesday’s list did not, however, include any persons of color. The hiring campaign didn’t specifically address ethnic diversity, but at the time stressed the importance of “representing all parts of our society.”

McFall will follow a different path than his fellow astronauts because he will participate in a groundbreaking feasibility study exploring whether physical disability will impair space travel. It’s uncharted land, since no major Western space agency has ever put a parastronaut into space, according to the ESA.

Speaking with pride amid flashes of emotion, McFall said that he was uniquely suited to the mission because of the vigor of his mind and body.

“I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I lost my leg about twenty plus years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to be a paralympic athlete and really explored myself emotionally … All those factors and hardships in life have given me confidence and strength — the ability to believe in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to,” he added.

“I never dreamt of being an astronaut. It was only when ESA announced that they were looking for a candidate with a physical disability to embark on this project that it really sparked my interest.”

The feasibility study, that will last two to three years, will examine the basic hurdles for a parastronaut including how a physical disability might impact mission training, and if modifications to spacesuits and aircraft are required, for example.

ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker said it was still a “long road” for McFall but described the fresh recruitment as a long-held ambition.

Parker said it started with a question. “Maybe there are people out there that are almost superhuman in that they’ve already overcome challenges. And could they become astronauts?”

Parker also says that he “thinks” it may be the first time the word “parastronaut” has been used, but “I do not claim ownership.”

“We’re saying that John (McFall) could be the first parastronaut, that means someone who has been selected by the regular astronaut selection process but happens to have a disability that would normally have ruled him out,” he said.

It will be at least five years before McFall goes into space as an astronaut — if he is successful.

Across the Atlantic, Houston is taking note. Dan Huot, a spokesman for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to the American agency’s astronaut corps, told the AP that “we at NASA are watching ESA’s para-astronaut selection process with great interest.”

Huot acknowledged that “NASA’s selection criteria currently remains the same” but said the agency is looking forward to working with the “new astronauts in the future” from partners such as the ESA.

NASA stressed that it has a safety-conscious process for vetting future astronauts who might be put in life-threatening situations.

“For maximum crew safety, NASA’s current requirements call for each crew member to be free of medical conditions that could either impair the person’s ability to participate in, or be aggravated by, spaceflight, as determined by NASA physicians,” Huot added.

NASA said future “assistive technology” might change the game for “some candidates” to meet their stringent safety requirements.

The European agency received applications from all member nations and associate members, though most came from traditional heavyweights France, Germany, Britain and Italy.

The two-day ESA council running Tuesday to Wednesday in Paris also saw France, Germany and Italy announcing an agreement Tuesday for a new-generation European space launcher project as part of apparent efforts to better compete with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and other rocket programs in the U.S. and China.

The ESA’s 22 European members also announced their commitment to “space ambitions” with a budget rise of 17% — representing 16.9 billion euros over the next three years. It will fund projects as diverse as tackling climate change to exploring Mars.

___

Associated Press writer Marcia Dunn contributed to this story from Cape Canaveral, Florida

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

murders...
Associated Press

Renton man gets 10 years in prison in drug trafficking case

A federal judge has sentenced a Renton, Washington man to 10 years in prison for his role in a violent drug distribution ring, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle.
1 day ago
Residents stand in line to enter a store which controls the flow of shoppers in Beijing, Sunday, No...
Associated Press

Protests of strict lockdown hit Shanghai, other China cities

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — A protest against China’s strict “zero-COVID” policies resurfaced in Shanghai on Sunday afternoon even after police cleared away hundreds of demonstrators in the early morning with force and pepper spray. Crowds stood and filmed as police started shoving at people who had gathered in the street and shouted, “We don’t want […]
1 day ago
Jean Claude, 27, poses in front of his hairdressing salon in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sa...
Associated Press

AP PHOTOS: Bright shops enliven Congo’s dark days

GOMA, Congo (AP) — Saturday morning in Goma, the lakeside capital of eastern Congo is as busy as any other day of the week, despite tensions caused by recent fighting between M23 rebels and government forces north of the city. Hundreds of taxi-motorcycles weave through the packed streets of the city on the Rwanda border, […]
1 day ago
FILE - Medical equipment and files lie damaged and looted by Eritrean soldiers at a hospital which ...
Associated Press

Kidnappings, looting cited in Ethiopia’s Tigray after truce

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Allies of Ethiopia’s federal military are looting property and carrying out mass detentions in Tigray, according to eyewitnesses and aid workers. The accounts raise fresh concern about alleged atrocities more than three weeks after the warring parties signed a truce that diplomats and others hoped would bring an end to suffering […]
1 day ago
British designer Elizabeth Emanuel stands beside a replica of an evening gown she designed for the ...
Associated Press

Exploring a memory: Designer recreates a dress for Diana

LONDON (AP) — This is a dress with a story, and Elizabeth Emanuel wants to tell it. Shocking pink with a plunging, ruffled neckline and body-hugging shape, the gown was designed by Emanuel for Lady Diana Spencer to wear at a Buckingham Palace party a few days before her marriage to Prince Charles in 1981. […]
1 day ago
FILE - People walk through the city center which lost electrical power after yesterday's Russian ro...
Associated Press

Hardship and hope: Winter, missile storms show Kyiv’s mettle

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The play finishes. The actors take their bows. Then they let loose with wartime patriotic zeal. “Glory to Ukraine!” they shout. “Glory to the heroes!” the audience yells back, leaping to its feet. The actors aren’t done. More yells follow, X-rated ones, cursing all things Russian and vowing that Ukraine will […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
Space diversity: Europe’s space agency gets 1st parastronaut