As with so many astronauts, who are ultimately chosen based on social compatibility, the first impression of the British man John McFall is: What a nice guy. You would immediately want to drink a soda with him from the space-compatible sip bag if you floated past him on board a space station. But will 41-year-old McFall be levitating, bag drinking, and all the other nice (spectacular views) and not-so-nice (months without a shower, bed, or privacy) that goes with human spaceflight? That remains open for the time being, because it has not yet been clearly defined what a “parastronaut” is. John McFall is to help find out.
The European space agency Esa presented its new class of astronauts on Wednesday. Five career astronauts – two women, three men – have been selected to begin their training soon and likely to fly into space sooner or later. In addition, eleven candidates who made it into the reserve selection and could be nominated at some point. And McFall as the 17th candidate whose right leg had to be amputated above the knee after a motorcycle accident when he was 19 years old.
It’s a pilot project – normally, just one visual impairment is allowed
McFall comes from a family of soldiers, originally he also wanted to join the military, he says in an Esa video, he seems a little bit nervous, he’s not yet an experienced self-promoter. After the accident, that plan was scrapped, instead he became a professional athlete, winning a bronze medal in the 100-meter sprint at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. He then studied medicine and now works as an orthopedist and trauma surgeon. When ESA started looking for a potential astronaut with a physical disability for the first time in early 2021, McFall, who now has three children, decided to apply. And prevailed against 256 other candidates.
Only people with leg or foot prostheses, with legs of different lengths or less than 130 centimeters in height were admitted, for the time being Esa does not dare to deal with more severe disabilities. It is a pilot project to even consider anyone with a physical disability to go into space, normally just a few eyesight is allowed, but please only that if it is fully correctable with glasses or contact lenses.
Exactly how things will continue is an open question. McFall is part of the official astronaut selection, not the reserve. A flight into space is expressly not guaranteed, it should be a feasibility study.
In any case, it should only be flown on the condition that the mission is as safe and as useful as any other. So it shouldn’t be about somehow bringing someone up just to be able to say that you did it. ESA gives various reasons why the project was chosen: People with disabilities could contribute their special experience and skills, and it was simply an obligation to hire astronauts with disabilities if that was possible, and ultimately they should be Be a role model and show others that you can achieve anything professionally.
Quite a lot to ask for one alone who has no idea where this journey will lead him. But for all the excitement, McFall seems pretty grounded no matter what. “I’m looking forward to what the future holds,” he says. Space travel doesn’t work without a message for future generations, so at the end he has to say what his should be: “Science is for everyone,” says McFall resolutely. “And hopefully,” hesitates briefly, “space travel can also be for everyone.”