John McFall is the first European astronaut with a physical disability. “I never expected to become an astronaut one day,” said the Briton in an interview with the editorial network Germany (RND). At the age of 19 he got into a motorcycle accident, lost his right leg and believed that his dream of going into space was over. He was all the happier when the European space agency ESA looked for astronauts with physical disabilities.
“For me, it’s all about chances,” said the 41-year-old. “All I ever wanted was to do something that inspires and interests me. Being an ESA astronaut has so many aspects that are inspiring, interesting and challenging. So I felt compelled to apply.”
McFall participates in feasibility project
McFall had tough competition: more than 250 applicants with a physical disability wanted to become an astronaut like him. Why did Esa choose him of all people? Probably because of his medical and scientific background as well as his physical fitness, he believes himself. “I hope above all that it has become clear that I feel good in my own skin.”
The “Parastronaut” – his new job title – will stay on the ground and take part in the ESA feasibility project “Parastronaut fly!”. “The feasibility project is about understanding and overcoming the scientific and technical difficulties that people with a physical disability may face when working as an astronaut in space,” explained McFall. It is not yet clear when the project will start. The general conditions and the time frame were just being worked out.
“I see the project as part of a bigger picture,” McFall said. In the meantime, space agencies like ESA have gained enough experience and knowledge to train people with physical disabilities to become astronauts. “Considering what humankind has accomplished to even get into space, I don’t think it’s an insurmountable problem to fly people with a physical disability into space. It’s all about finding the right solutions and that will take a little time.”