Space Diversity: The European Space Agency ranked first

Space Diversity: The European Space Agency ranked first

The European Space Agency made history on Wednesday by selecting an amputee who lost a leg in a motorcycle accident to be among the latest batch of astronauts — in a leap towards its groundbreaking ambition of sending a physically disabled person into space.

John McFaul, 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 in Europe’s response to NASA “a real turning point and a marker in history.”

“The European Space Agency has an obligation to send an astronaut with a physical disability into space… This is the first time that a space agency has sought to embark on a project like this. And it sends a really strong message to humanity.”

The newly minted parastronaut joins five professional astronauts in the final selection revealed during a press conference in Paris—the conclusion of the agency’s first recruitment drive in over a decade with the goal of bringing diversity to space travel.

The list also included two women: Frenchwoman Sophie Adinot and British Rosemary Cogan, new ambassadors for another largely underrepresented European astronaut division. A small minority of those who explored space were women, and most of those were Americans.

However, Wednesday’s list did not include any people of color. The recruitment campaign did not specifically address racial diversity, but at the time it stressed the importance of “representing all parts of our society.”

McFall will follow a different path than his fellow astronauts because he will participate in a groundbreaking feasibility study to explore whether a physical disability would impair space travel. It’s uncharted territory, as no major Western space agency has ever put Parastronnaut into space, according to the European Space Agency.

Speaking proudly amid flashes of emotion, McFaul said he was uniquely suited to the task because of the liveliness of his mind and body.

“I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I lost my leg about twenty or so years ago, and I’ve had the opportunity to be a Paralympic athlete and have really explored myself emotionally… All of these factors and hardships in life have given me confidence and strength—the ability to believe in myself that I can do anything.” I put it in my mind.”

“I never dreamed of becoming an astronaut. It was only when the European Space Agency announced that they were looking for a candidate with a physical disability to embark on this project that it really interested me.”

The feasibility study, which will last two to three years, will examine the primary hurdles Parastronnaut faces including how a physical disability might affect mission training, and whether modifications to spacesuits and aircraft are needed, for example.

It’s still a “long road” for McFall, ESA director of human and robotic exploration David Parker said, but called the new hire a long-term ambition.

Parker said it began with a question. “Maybe there are people who are almost superhuman because they have already overcome challenges. And can they become astronauts?”

Parker also says he “believes” it may be the first time the word “parastronaut” has been used, but “I don’t claim ownership.”

He said, “We’re saying John (McFall) could be the first associate, meaning someone who was selected through the normal astronaut selection process but happens to have a disability that would normally have disqualified him.”

It will be at least five years before McFall goes to space as an astronaut – if he succeeds.

Across the Atlantic, Houston notes. “We at NASA are watching ESA’s astronaut selection process with great interest,” Dan Huot, a spokesman for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home of the agency’s astronaut team, told the Associated Press.

Huot acknowledged that “NASA’s selection criteria currently remain the same” but said the agency is looking forward to working with “new astronauts of the future” from partners such as the European Space Agency.

NASA has confirmed that it has a safety-conscious process to screen future astronauts who might be put into life-threatening situations.

“To maximize crew safety, NASA’s current requirements require that every crew member be free from medical conditions that could impair or aggravate a person’s ability to participate in spaceflight, as determined by NASA physicians,” Huot added.

NASA said future “assistive technology” could change the game for “certain candidates” to meet their stringent safety requirements.

The European agency received applications from all member countries and associate members, although most of them came from heavyweights such as France, Germany, Britain and Italy.

The European Space Agency’s two-day council from Tuesday to Wednesday in Paris saw France, Germany and Italy announce an agreement on Tuesday on a next-generation European space bomber project as part of apparent efforts to better compete with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and other rocket programs in the United States. . United States and China.

The 22 European members of the European Space Agency also announced their commitment to “space ambitions” by increasing the budget by 17% – representing €16.9 billion over the next three years. It will fund projects as diverse as tackling climate change and Mars exploration.

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