April 19, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

by Gabriella Sotelo (28 November 2022)

The European Space Agency has announced their new class of trainee astronauts, and in doing so has also made the initiative to send someone with a physical disability into space. The man chosen, John McFall from the United Kingdom, will take part in the ESA’s Parastronaut Feasibility Program. 

The Parastronaut Feasibility Program, according to the ESA, will explore options for including astronauts with physical disabilities in future space missions and human spaceflight. This study will last two to three years and will look at hurdles future ‘parastronauts’ may face, like if their disability would affect mission training, and if modifications to spacecrafts and spacesuits are needed.

This project originally started some years ago when the ESA put out a call for applications from “individual(s) who are psychologically, cognitively, technically and professionally qualified to be an astronaut, but have a physical disability that would normally prevent them from being selected due to the requirements imposed by the use of current space hardware.”

John McFall, who had his leg amputated when he was 19 and is a Paralympian, decided to answer the ESA’s call.

“I never dreamt of being an astronaut,” McFall told the Associated Press. “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.”

McFall will be part of a new class of trainee astronauts, though their program and training may slightly differ from McFalls’. This third generation of astronauts includes five career astronauts, made up of five men and two women, that will start a year of basic training at the European Astronaut Centre in Germany. They will then enter the next Space Station training phase, and from there will be trained to do whatever their specific mission entails. 

This new class also includes 11 members of a reserve pool of astronauts. This reserve list is made up of astronaut candidates who were successful during the selection process, but can’t be currently recruited. This means the reserve class will remain with their current employers and will “receive a consultancy contract and basic support,” according to the ESA. They will also start basic training in case a flight opportunity presents itself. 

The 2022 ESA astronaut class was introduced on November 23 and the group was the first new recruits in 13 years. 

If you would like to learn more about where each astronaut is from, and more about the announcement in general, you can find this information on the ESA’s website.