ESA to detect recruits

The European Space Agency made history Wednesday by selecting an amputee to be among the latest batch of astronauts, and complementing that with an unprecedented commitment to one day send a physically disabled person into outer space.

John McFall, a 41-year-old British former Paralympian who lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident when he was 19, called his selection “a real turning point and a marker in history”.

“ESA is committed to sending an astronaut with a physical disability into space… This is the first time that a space agency has sought to embark on a project like this, and it sends a really powerful message to humanity,” he said.

The newly minted parastronaut joins five professional astronauts in the final selection revealed during a press conference in Paris that was the culmination of the agency’s first recruitment drive in more than a decade with the goal of achieving diversity in space travel.

The selection included Sophie Adinot from France and Rosemary Cogan from Britain to address the fact that women on European spaceflight are still vastly underrepresented. However, there were no people of color among the new recruits. The recruitment campaign did not specifically address racial diversity, but at the time it stressed the importance of “representing all parts of our society.”

McFall will follow a different path than other fellow astronauts by participating in a groundbreaking feasibility study to explore whether a physical disability would impair space travel. To date, no major Western space agency has put Parastronnaut into space, according to the European Space Agency.

“I lost my leg about twenty or so years ago, I had the opportunity to be a Paralympic athlete and really explore myself emotionally… All these factors and hardships in life have given me confidence and strength – the ability to believe in myself that I can do anything I set my mind to.”

The feasibility study, which will last two to three years, will examine key obstacles for Parastronnaut including how a physical disability might affect mission training, and whether modifications to spacesuits and aircraft are needed.

It’s still a “long road” for McFall, ESA director of human and robotic exploration David Parker said, but called the new recruit a long-term ambition.

Parker said it began with a question. “Maybe there are people who are almost superhuman because they have already overcome challenges. And can they become astronauts?”

Parker also says he “believes” it may be the first time the word “parastronaut” has been used, but “I don’t claim ownership.”

He said, “We’re saying John (McFall) could be the first associate, meaning someone who was selected through the normal astronaut selection process but happens to have a disability that would normally have disqualified him.”

Parker said it would be at least five years before McFaul went into space as an astronaut – if he succeeded.

The new recruits were among more than 22,000 applicants who applied in a recruitment drive announced in February last year by European agency NASA, including more women than ever before and about 200 people with disabilities who applied.

Specifically seeking people with physical disabilities, the European Space Agency made a bold effort to determine what modifications would be necessary for space stations to accommodate them.

Across the Atlantic, Houston takes notes. “We at NASA are watching ESA’s astronaut selection process with great interest,” Dan Huot, a spokesman for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home of the agency’s astronaut team, told the Associated Press.

Huot acknowledged that “NASA’s selection criteria currently remain the same” but said the agency is looking forward to working with “new astronauts of the future” from partners such as the European Space Agency.

NASA has confirmed that it has a safety-conscious process to screen future astronauts who might be put into life-threatening situations.

“To maximize crew safety, NASA’s current requirements require that every crew member be free from medical conditions that could impair or aggravate a person’s ability to participate in spaceflight, as determined by NASA physicians,” Huot added.

NASA said future “assistive technology” could change the game for “certain candidates” to meet their stringent safety requirements.

The European agency received applications from all member countries and associate members, although most of them came from heavyweights such as France, Germany, Britain and Italy.

The European Space Agency’s two-day council from Tuesday to Wednesday in Paris saw France, Germany and Italy announce an agreement on Tuesday on a next-generation European space bomber project as part of apparent efforts to better compete with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and other rocket programs in the United States. . United States and China.

The 22 European members of the European Space Agency also announced their commitment to “space ambitions” by increasing the budget by 17% – representing €16.9 billion over the next three years. It will fund projects as diverse as tackling climate change and Mars exploration.

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Associated Press writer Marcia Dunn contributed to this story from Cape Canaveral, Florida

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