'Space is for everyone!': Meet the world’s first parastronaut

British Paralympian John McFall is set to be the first disabled person in space

The European Space Agency has announced they are training the first-ever parastronaut in a big step towards allowing people with physical disabilities go into space.

The 22-nation agency named former Paralympic sprinter John McFall as one of a new generation of recruits selected for astronaut training. The agency said he would be the world’s first physically disabled astronaut.

“I can bring inspiration,” John said at the announcement. “Inspiration that science is for everyone,” he added, and that, “potentially, space is for everyone.”

The ESA’s first British astronaut, selected in 2008, Tim Peake, said his recruitment was “absolutely groundbreaking”. “He’s really going to be pushing the boundaries,”  Tim said. “He’s very much paving the way for astronauts with future disabilities to do so as well.”

He will now join 16 other new recruits in the space training corps. Chosen from around 22,500 applicants, including 257 with disabilities, John will begin a 12-month basic training program at the European Astronaut Centre in Germany.

“We’ve got to undergo astronaut training and work out what it is about having a physical disability that makes it tricky and overcome those hurdles,” John said in an interview with the agency.

A mountain biking father of three, who works as a trauma surgeon, he joked that he had been looking for a new role.

“I realised I couldn’t be an athlete for my whole life, I probably needed to get a proper job,” he said.

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.”  

"Space has an incredible power to inspire and I am sure John [and the other UK astronauts] 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."

Who is John McFall?

  • The world’s first parastronaut was born on 25 April 1981 in Frimley, in the south of the UK.
  • He currently works as a Trauma and Orthopaedic Specialist Registrar and is a member of the Royal College of Surgeons.
  • A keen runner, he has a background in sports and exercise science.
  • Following a motorcycle accident at the age of 19 that resulted in the amputation of his right leg, he didn’t just learn to run again but became a professional track and field athlete in 2005.
  • Representing Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a Paralympic sprinter, class T42, he won a Bronze Medal in the 100m at the Beijing Paralympic Games 2008, among other accolades.
  • Married with three children, John likes running and mountain biking, playing the guitar, carpentry and DIY.

 For a video interview with John visit the ESA's website.

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