On November 23, 2022, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced its first new class of astronaut trainees in 13 years. The 17 candidates were selected from a pool of 22,500 applicants. They include five career astronauts, 11 reserve astronauts, and John McFall — the world's first astronaut with a disability.
"It's been quite a whirlwind experience, given that as an amputee, I'd never thought that being an astronaut was a possibility, so excitement was a huge emotion," said McFall.
McFall lost his right leg in a motorcycle crash when he was just 19 years old. However, the determined teenager refused to let the "minor" disability slow him down. Upon recovering, McFall used a prosthetic leg to train as a professional sprinter. His numerous awards include a bronze medal at the 2008 Summer Paralympic Games in Beijing, China.
While training, McFall also earned a bachelor's and a master's degree in sports science. After retiring from professional running in 2009, he attended the Cardiff University School of Medicine in the UK. McFall now works as a trauma and orthopedic trainee in Southern England, where he lives with his wife and three children.
McFall's selection does not guarantee him a trip to space. The 41-year-old will first have to participate in ESA's Parastronaut Feasibility Project. The three-year-long study aims to explore ways to include people with disabilities in future space missions.
McFall could someday make further history as the first "parastronaut" included in a space mission. However, he will not be the first disabled person in space. That honor goes to Hayley Arceneaux. She was one of the four crew members of the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission that orbited Earth in September 2021.
Resources: Pbs.org, Smithsonianmag.com, ESA.int