European Space Agency announces first ‘parastronaut’

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For the first time in 13 years, the European Space Agency has announced a new class of trainee astronauts, including the world’s first “para-astronaut”.

Third generation of European astronauts include five career astronauts, 11 members of a reserve pool of astronauts and an astronaut with a physical disability who will participate in a feasibility project to include astronauts with disabilities in human spaceflight and possible future missions. The 17 were chosen from more than 22,500 applicants from all over Europe.

“This ESA astronaut class brings ambition, talent and diversity in many different forms – to drive our endeavors and our future,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said in a press releasereferring to the “continuous exploration in low Earth orbit on the International Space Station, onward to the Moon – and beyond.”

Five new recruits, three men and two women, start 12 months of basic training at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany, to enable them to reach the standard specified by the International Space Station partners, the space agency said. The candidates are Sophie Adenot, Pablo Álvarez Fernández, Rosemary Coogan, Raphaël Liégeois and John McFall.

This is the first time that the space agency has established an astronaut reserve, which consists of candidates who successfully completed the selection process but were not recruited. Reserve astronauts will remain with their current employers and will receive a consulting contract.

McFall, a British doctor and Paralympian, said he felt compelled to apply when he saw ESA’s ad for an astronaut with a physical disability. His right leg was amputated after a motorcycle accident when he was 19.

ESA's new class of astronauts includes (from left) Reservist Meganne Christian, John McFall and Rosemary Coogan.  McFall, a British doctor, becomes the first astronaut with a physical disability.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is such a huge, interesting opportunity,'” McFall said in a video posted on ESA’s website. “I thought I would be a very good candidate to help ESA answer the question they asked, ‘Can we get a person with a physical disability into space?'”

The ESA’s call for candidates with physical disabilities was open to those with lower limb deficiency or who are considered to be of short stature – less than 130 centimeters or 4 feet, 3 inches.

The space agency has been closely involved with NASA’s Artemis mission to put humans back on the moon, and ESA hopes that the first European to set foot on the moon will be among this class of astronauts.

The space agency also agreed on Wednesday a new budget of 16.9 billion euros ($17.5 billion) for the next three years — an increase of 17% compared to 2019.

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