European Space Agency recruits amputee and paralympian in its next class of astronauts

The European Space Agency (ESA) has made history by selecting an amputee who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident to be among its newest batch of astronauts.

John McFall — a 41-year-old Briton who lost his right leg when he was 19 and went on to compete in the Paralympics — called his selection at Europe’s answer to NASA “a real turning point and mark in history”.

“ESA has a commitment to send an astronaut with a physical disability into space … This is the first time that a space agency has endeavoured to embark on a project like this and it sends a really, really strong message to humanity,” he said.

The newly-minted parastronaut joins five career astronauts in the final selection unveiled during a Paris news conference, the conclusion of the agency’s first recruitment drive in more than a decade, aimed at bringing diversity to space travel.

That list also includes two women: France’s Sophie Adenot and the UK’s Rosemary Coogan, new ambassadors for another greatly under-represented section for European astronauts.

A small minority of those who have explored space have been women, and most of those were Americans.

John McFall will take part in a feasibility study to explore whether physical disability will impair space travel.(AP: Francois Mori)

Wednesday’s list did not, however, include any persons of colour.

The hiring campaign did not specifically address ethnic diversity but, at the time, stressed the importance of “representing all parts of our society”.

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