John McFall, who had his right leg amputated at the age of 19 due to a motorbike accident, went on to take home the bronze medal in the 100-meter race at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.
The European Space Agency (ESA) on Wednesday recognised the first-ever "parastronaut" as a significant step toward enabling persons with physical disabilities to work and live in space. The 22-nation organisation announced that it had chosen former British Paralympic sprinter John McFall as one of the 17 new-generation recruits chosen for astronaut training.
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McFall will partake in a feasibility study meant to help the ESA determine the prerequisites for persons with impairments to participate in future missions. "It's been quite a whirlwind experience, given that as an amputee, I'd never thought that being an astronaut was a possibility, so excitement was a huge emotion," he said in an interview posted on ESA's website.
Following the first restocking of the ESA's astronaut ranks since 2009, he will train with 11 reserves, and five new career astronauts.
Last year, the ESA advertised positions for those who are completely capable of passing it's customary rigorous psychological, cognitive, and other assessments but are prevented from becoming astronauts owing to the limitations of the available technology in light of their impairment.
It received 257 submissions for the role of an astronaut with a disability, a parallel position that it terms "parastronaut". Disability equality charity organisation Scope deemed his selection as a "major leap forward".
Alison Kerry, the charity's Head of Communications, said, "Better representation of disabled people in influential roles will really help improve attitudes and break down the barriers that many disabled people face today."
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McFall, who had his right leg amputated at the age of 19 due to a motorbike accident, went on to take home the bronze medal in the 100-meter race at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.
The sprinter will assist ESA engineers in creating the hardware modifications required to make professional spaceflight more accessible to a wider group of qualified people, the agency stated.
"I think the message that I would give to future generations is that science is for everyone and space travel hopefully can be for everyone," McFall said.
(Edited by : Priyanka Deshpande)