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Meet John McFall, world's first parastronaut who will go into space

41-year-old Briton, Jack McFall, has been chosen by the European Space Agency to be the first paraastronaut to go into space.

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John McFall paraastronaut
ESA's new parastronaut John McFall, a British former Paralympic sprinter who will take part in a potentially groundbreaking feasibility study. (Photo: AP)

In Short

  • The announcement came after the conclusion of the agency’s first recruitment drive
  • McFall will participate in a groundbreaking feasibility study
  • The feasibility study will last two to three years

By India Today Web Desk: The European Space Agency, in a bid to boost diversity in space exploration, has announced the first parastronaut among its newest batch of astronauts. The announcement is being seen as a big leap towards the continent's pioneering ambition to send someone with a physical disability into space.

41-year-old Briton, Jack McFall has been chosen to be the first parastronaut to go into space. He lost his right leg when he was 19 and went on to compete in the Paralympics. He joins five career astronauts in the final selection unveiled during a Paris news conference.

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The announcement came after the conclusion of the agency’s first recruitment drive in over a decade aimed at bringing diversity to space travel. The list also includes two women: France’s Sophie Adenot and the UK’s Rosemary Coogan.

ESA
ESA's new parastronaut John McFall with new astronauts Meganne Christian, left, and Rosemary Coogan. (Photo: AP)

Reacting to the announcement McFall said that it is a real turning point and mark in history. “ESA has the commitment to send an astronaut with a physical disability into space ... This is the first time that a space agency has endeavored to embark on a project like this. And it sends a really, really strong message to humanity,” he added.

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McFall will now participate in a groundbreaking feasibility study exploring whether physical disability will impair space travel. This is the first time that a space agency is focussing on exploring this new domain in space exploration. It’s uncharted land since no major Western space agency has ever put a parastronaut into space, according to the ESA.

“I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I lost my leg about twenty-plus years ago, and I’ve had the opportunity to be a paralympic athlete and really explored myself emotionally ... All those factors and hardships in life have given me confidence and strength -- the ability to believe in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to,” McFall said.

ESA
ESA has announced its newest astronaut recruits as part of its first recruitment drive in over a decade. (Photo: AP)

The feasibility study, which will last two to three years, will examine the basic hurdles for a parastronaut including how a physical disability might impact mission training, and if modifications to spacesuits and aircraft are required, for example.

ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker said it was still a “long road” for McFall but described the fresh recruitment as a long-held ambition.

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It will be at least five years before McFall goes into space as an astronaut — if he is successful. Meanwhile, Nasa is keeping a track of the development, and Dan Huot, a spokesman for Johnson Space Center told AP that they are watching ESA’s parastronaut selection process with great interest.

Nasa stressed that it has a safety-conscious process for vetting future astronauts who might be put in life-threatening situations.

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