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Paralympian to undertake ESA astronaut training

Paralympian to undertake ESA astronaut training

A disabled British man is set to undertake astronaut training for the European Space Agency as part of a program to pave the way for others like him to travel into space.

John McFall’s right leg was amputated when he was 19, but the Briton went on to become a sprinter who won bronze at the Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008.

McFall will join 16 men and women who have been selected for the European Space Agency’s (ESA) newest class of astronauts.

The agency said it wanted to widen the definition of what it means to have “the right stuff” to go to space.


The announcement doesn’t guarantee McFall will go into space, but he will be a part of a feasibility study designed to pave the way for other disabled people to go to space.

The program’s goal is to work out the requirements and the strategy behind transporting McFall, and others like him, into orbit.

“When ESA announced that they were looking for candidates with a physical disability to run this astronaut feasibility project, I looked at the person specification and it just kind of jumped out to me,” McFall said.

“I felt so inspired by it. I felt compelled to apply.”


In total, five out of the 17 are guaranteed to travel into orbit after their training is complete. Almost 50 per cent of the new recruits are also women, including astrophysicist Rosemary Coogan.

She will also become the first British female ESA astronaut.

“Today is the beginning, (we will) all be in it together. I just feel really strongly about all of the things that space can do for us,” Coogan said in an interview with the BBC.

The two-year training program will start in April next year, and the ESA will receive €16.9 billion in funding over the next five years. 

Dr David Parker, the ESA’s director of human and robotic space exploration, said, “It’s really important for us to involve everybody that has an excitement about space.

“We’re making the first step by opening up this call to people that have certain types of physical disability, and we really hope we’ll be flying them on a mission to the International Space Station.”

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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