esa introduces new astronauts

Paris. John McFall was 19 when he was involved in a motorcycle accident and lost his right leg. He then became a professional track and field athlete, representing Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the Paralympic Games in Beijing and winning bronze. And soon he will probably fly into space.

John McFall is the first ESA astronaut with a physical disability.

McFall is the first European “parastronaut”, i.e. the first astronaut with a physical disability. The European Space Agency Esa has chosen him for their new astronaut class.

“As an amputee, I never thought I could be an astronaut,” said McFall, who is a trauma and orthopedic surgeon. It’s the first time since 2008 that ESA has advertised astronauts again – and then people with physical disabilities. A first.

McFall participates in Parastronaut Fly! feasibility project

“We didn’t evolve to go into space, so we’re all handicapped when it comes to space travel,” said ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, who just returned from an ISS mission last month. “What takes us from disabled to spaceworthy is technology.”

A total of 257 people with a physical disability had applied to Esa. Only McFall survived the tough selection process. He will now take part in the “Parastronaut Fly!” feasibility project, with which the space agency wants to investigate what it takes to enable “parastronauts” and “parastronauts” to travel into space in the future.

Only 17 applicants make it through the selection process

The Esa selection process lasted until the end of November this year. The space agency had to look through more than 22,500 applications. After all, the best applicants had to go through practical, medical and psychological tests.

In the end, only 17 applicants successfully passed all stages. Esa selected McFall as “Parastronaut” as well as five professional astronauts who will begin their one-year basic training at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne next year.

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The rest will be used as reserve astronauts – including the two Germans Amelie Schoenenwald and Nicola Winter. You are not directly involved with Esa, but could be selected for certain projects and even have the opportunity to become a professional astronaut. “They are also astronauts,” ESA Director General Joseph Aschbacher made clear at the announcement in Paris.

The new professional astronauts

Sophie Adenot, born 1982, from France

Equipped with the curiosity of an explorer: Sophie Adenot.

Equipped with the curiosity of an explorer: Sophie Adenot.

She is awarded the French National Order of Merit and the Medal of the French National Assembly as an Inspirational Ambassador for Gender Equality in Science. A flight into space is now to be added to the list of successes. “I’ve always had this curiosity of an explorer,” she says. “I wanted to discover and learn new things.”

This also explains the French woman’s multifaceted CV: She studied engineering, specializing in spacecraft and aircraft, then joined the French Air Force and trained as a helicopter pilot. She was involved in several search and rescue operations. “Of course, all of this is completely new to me,” she says, referring to her future work as a professional astronaut. “But I’m fully committed to working toward all missions and contributing and sharing everything I’ve learned with others.”

Rosemary Coogan, born 1991, from Great Britain

Has always had an eye on space: Rosemary Coogan.

Has always had an eye on space: Rosemary Coogan.

She is the youngest of Esa’s new professional astronauts. At just 31, Rosemary Coogan is dying to go into space. A place that she says has always fascinated her. She studied physics and astronomy and researches how galaxies develop over time.

“I applied to the space program because I want to do practical work and learn as much as possible about space,” says the Brit. It was a “real privilege” that she was selected as a professional astronaut. The stars, comets and asteroids she has seen through the space telescopes on Earth may soon give her a completely different perspective.

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Pablo Álvarez Fernández, born 1988, from Spain

As an aerospace engineer, he is already familiar with space technology: Pablo Álvarez Fernández.

As an aerospace engineer, he is already familiar with space technology: Pablo Álvarez Fernández.

Pablo Álvarez Fernández knows a lot about aviation. He studied aerospace engineering – first in Spain, then in Poland for his master’s degree. Until recently, the Spaniard worked as a project manager for Airbus and supported various projects in the Airbus plants. He was also involved as a mechanical architect in the construction of the ExoMars rover. While at least one of the rovers has already made the flight into space, Fernández still has to be patient on his journey.

“I am very happy and excited to be here with you all,” said Fernández in Paris announcing his appointment as a career astronaut. Congratulations also came from Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez Twitter.

Raphaël Liégeois, born in 1988, from Belgium

He wants to go to the limits of human exploration, into space: Raphaël Liégeois.

He wants to go to the limits of human exploration, into space: Raphaël Liégeois.

Either in the air or on the water – that’s where Raphaël Liégeois is to be found. He is a hot air balloon pilot, glider pilot and has a diving and sailing license. Now he wants to go even higher and fly into space. “What fascinates me about space exploration is that it represents the next frontier of human exploration,” he says.

Research is Liégeois’ passion. He studied biomedical engineering at the University of Liège and did his master’s degree in fundamental physics at the Université Paris-Sud Orsay. The Belgian has been a neuroscientist since 2015, gives courses on neuroengineering and statistics and has already won several prizes for his research. The first to know about his appointment as a professional astronaut was his wife. After all, it was a “joint project”.

Marco Sieber, born 1989, from Switzerland

It was already a childhood dream to fly into space, says Marco Sieber. Now this dream could come true for the Swiss in the near future. He brings two very different areas of expertise to the team: on the one hand, he is a trained paratrooper, on the other hand, he worked until the end as an emergency doctor in helicopter rescue.

Combining technology with extremes is also what inspires him in his hobbies: paragliding, kite surfing and scuba diving. “It still feels unreal,” he says of the moment he learned ESA had chosen him to be a career astronaut. “I hope that I can at least be part of a mission to low earth orbit.” But Sieber can also imagine a trip to the moon.

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