British paralympian on course to be Europe’s first disabled astronaut

Bronze medallist sprinter picked to join European Space Agency’s training corps

Liam James
Wednesday 23 November 2022 18:43 GMT
‘Space is for everyone’: British paralympian on course to be ESA’s first disabled astronaut

A British Paralympian could soon be Europe’s first disabled astronaut.

John McFall, who took the bronze medal in the Men’s T42 100m sprint at the 2008 Beijing Games, has been selected for the European Space Agency’s (ESA) astronaut training corps.

The 41-year-old said the programme was an “inspiring and exhilarating opportunity” and praised the ESA for opening their search to a disabled candidate.

Asked what made him apply, Mr McFall said he “felt compelled to try and help ESA answer this question ‘can we get someone with a physical disability to do meaningful work in space?’”

The Surrey man, who lost his right leg in a motorbike accident aged 19, was picked out of a field of more than 22,500 applicants and will be joined by British astronomer Rosemary Coogan. She is among six career astronauts to join the ESA workforce as permanent staff members.

Meanwhile, Meganne Christian, who was born in the UK and studied in Australia, will become a member of the ESA’s astronaut reserve.

The three were pictured together at the ESA Class of 2022 announcement ceremony in the Grand Palais Ephemere in Paris.

New recruits: Meganne Christian, left, John McFall and Rosemary Coogan are unveiled in Paris

Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “This is a momentous day for the UK Space Agency, our space sector and the country as a whole.

“Through our investment in the European Space Agency, the UK is playing a leading role in space exploration and collaborating with international partners to use the unique vantage point of space to benefit life on Earth.”

“Space has an incredible power to inspire and I am sure Rosemary, John and Meganne will become heroes for many young people and inspire them to shoot for the stars.

McFall in the Men’s T42 100m final at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics beside Japan’s Atsushi Yamamoto

“It’s also important to remember that, behind every astronaut, there is a dedicated team of people, including in the UK, working behind the scenes to achieve the incredible.”

The UK entered 2,000 applicants this year, the third largest national figure after France (7,087) and Germany (3,695).

Just 17 applicants were successful in the ESA’s first call for astronauts since 2008, when Tim Peake became the first British astronaut to be part of the ESA corps.

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