British ex-Paralympian John McFall selected to become first disabled astronaut

23 November 2022, 18:16 | Updated: 24 November 2022, 01:41

John McFall, who was selected from among 200 candidates, is joining the space training corps as a “para-astronaut”, and hopes to become the first disabled person to go to space as part of a feasibility study.
John McFall, who was selected from among 200 candidates, is joining the space training corps as a “para-astronaut”, and hopes to become the first disabled person to go to space as part of a feasibility study. Picture: Twitter / LBC

By Chris Samuel

A British former Paralympian is set to become the world’s first disabled astronaut after being selected for the European Space Agency (ESA)'s training programme.

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John McFall, who was selected from among 200 candidates, is joining the space training corps as a “para-astronaut”, and hopes to become the first disabled person to go to space as part of a feasibility study.

Mr McFall lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident at the age of 19 but went on to become a successful track and field athlete.

The 41-year-old represented Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the Paralympics, bagging a bronze medal at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.

After the ESA’s announcement at Paris' Grand Palais Ephemere, Mr McFall described the opportunity to make a groundbreaking trip to space “inspiring and exhilarating”.

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He said: “With my broad scientific background and a vast range of experiences, I felt compelled to try and help ESA answer this question: 'Can we get someone with a physical disability to do meaningful work in space?'”

Mr McFall was a foundation doctor in the NHS from 2014 to 2016, working in a range of medical and surgical specialties in South East Wales.

In 2016, he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and is currently a Trauma and Orthopaedic Specialist Registrar practising in the south of England.

The former athlete is currently studying for his Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) exams.

The Surrey-born athlete is married and has three children.

He's joined in ESA’s class of 2022 by Northern Ireland-born astronomer Rosemary Coogan, who is joining as a career astronaut.

Meganne Christian, was who born in the UK and educated in Australia, will become a member of the ESA’s astronaut reserve.

Over 22,500 people applied, with the largest number coming from France with 7,087, followed by Germany (3,695), and the UK (2,000).

The career astronauts, which also include Pablo Álvarez Fernández from Spain, Sophie Adenot from France, Marco Sieber from Switzerland, and Raphaël Liégeois from Belgium, were selected after a rigorous process lasting over a year.

Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “This is a momentous day for the UK Space Agency, our space sector and the country as a whole.

“Through our investment in the European Space Agency, the UK is playing a leading role in space exploration and collaborating with international partners to use the unique vantage point of space to benefit life on Earth.”

“Space has an incredible power to inspire and I am sure Rosemary, John and Meganne will become heroes for many young people and inspire them to shoot for the stars.

“It’s also important to remember that, behind every astronaut, there is a dedicated team of people, including in the UK, working behind the scenes to achieve the incredible.”

The announcement comes after the UK Government committed £1.84bn for important space programmes at this year’s European Space Agency Council of Ministers meeting in Paris.

The investment will cover a range of programmes from space sustainability to supporting the UK-built Rosalind Franklin Mars Rover.

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