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Paralympian is to become the first disabled astronaut

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Members of ESA’s new class of astronauts Meganne Christian, John McFall and Rosemary Coogan with astronaut Major Tim Peake. Photo: Reuters/Benoit Tessier

Members of ESA’s new class of astronauts Meganne Christian, John McFall and Rosemary Coogan with astronaut Major Tim Peake. Photo: Reuters/Benoit Tessier

John McFall won bronze at the Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008. Photo: Julien Behal

John McFall won bronze at the Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008. Photo: Julien Behal

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Members of ESA’s new class of astronauts Meganne Christian, John McFall and Rosemary Coogan with astronaut Major Tim Peake. Photo: Reuters/Benoit Tessier

A British former Paralympian will become the world’s first disabled astronaut after being selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) to join its training programme.

John McFall, who saw off competition from more than 200 candidates, will take part in the space training corps as a “para-astronaut”, with the hope that he can become the first disabled person to go into space as part of a feasibility study.

The 41-year-old lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident when he was 19 but went on to become a professional track and field athlete.

He represented Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the Paralympics – winning a bronze medal at the Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008.

Following the ESA’s announcement at Grand Palais Ephemere in Paris, France, yesterday, Mr McFall described the opportunity as “inspiring and exhilarating”.

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?”

Also joining the ESA’s class of 2022 as a career astronaut is astronomer Rosemary Coogan from Northern Ireland.

She is among the six astronauts to join the ESA workforce as permanent staff members.

She received her master’s degree in astronomy in 2015, where she conducted research on gamma-ray emission from black holes, before going on to pursue a PhD at the University of Sussex.

Ms Coogan described being selected as a “welcome surprise” and a “real privilege” but said becoming an astronaut was something she had considered.

“Space has always fascinated me,” she said.

“I think it is really important to understand where we come from, the conditions of life and how the human body reacts when those conditions change. “So I am really excited to do that by going to space, hopefully inspiring other people to do the same and contributing to the ESA’s goals.”

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Meanwhile, Meganne Christian, who was born in the UK and studied in Australia, successfully completed the astronaut selection process and will become a member of the ESA’s astronaut reserve.

The reserve team is made up of candidates who were successful throughout the entire selection process and were not recruited.

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

The career astronauts, which also include Sophie Adenot from France, Pablo Alvarez Fernandez from Spain, Raphael Liegeois from Belgium, and Marco Sieber from Switzerland, were selected following a rigorous and comprehensive process that lasted more than a year.

The ESA’s last call for astronauts was in 2008, when Tim Peake was selected.


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