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European Space Program Selects First Disabled Astronaut Recruit

New Crop of Would-Be Astronauts Builds on Agency's Next-Gen Accommodation Goals

John McFall made history this year as the first physically disabled astronaut, brought on as one of the European Space Agency's new crop of recruits. 

McFall joins 16 new faces from across the EU, picked from about 22,500 applicants as the ESA ran its first open casting call in more than a decade. The 41-year-old said he hopes that his selection will help to inspire others to try for their dreams, too. His position as an amputee will be part of an effort to gauge the feasibility of disability in space travel, allowing the ESA to build experience in spaceborne accommodations for people outside the able-bodied norm that astronauts have long been required to fit. McFall is no stranger to fitness, regardless, as a trauma surgeon and longtime Paralympic athlete. 

“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, so it adds an additional layer of complexity,” said McFall. “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, so it adds an additional layer of complexity." His position as a "Parastronaut Feasibility Study Member" should help to render future struggles in the same vein a non-issue for similar astronauts. McFall's expertise as a medical professional will undoubtedly come in handy as the team looks to maximize the accessibility of kinesthetics of equipment in space. 

McFall isn't the only one breaking the mold in the new crop. The ESA's group of new recruits narrowly fell short of a 50% gender breakdown, with 8 of the 17 successful applicants being women - a far cry from the last bunch, where 5/6 of the recruits were men. The program has been a point of contention for those wanting a wider variety of spacefaring demographics, a message the ESA appears to have taken to heart. The group is far from space-ready, however, requiring their first bout of education at the European Astronaut Centre's 12-month basic training program. From there, they'll be able to continue their training and specialize further. 



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