John McFall • The Register

The European Space Agency (ESA) on Wednesday announced the enlistment of 17 astronauts for 2022 – including five professional astronauts, 11 reserve astronauts and one selected from its November 2021 Parastronaut Feasibility Study.

“Today we welcome the 17 members of the new ESA Astronaut Class 2022. This ESA Astronaut Class brings ambition, talent and diversity in many different forms – to advance our efforts and our future,” said ESA Director Josef Aschbacher.

Eight of the seventeen are female. ESA member states Germany, France, Italy and Spain each have two citizens on the list, while Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Poland and Sweden have one each. Britain has three.

The only Parastronaut candidate is John McFall – a former Paralympic sprinter with a bronze medial to his name and credentials as an orthopedic surgeon. McFall lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident when he was 19.

After the accident, he continued his sports and movement science training, took part in the Paralympics and finally began his medical training at the age of 28.

“In November 2022, John was selected to participate in the Parastronaut Feasibility Project to improve our understanding of and overcome the barriers spaceflight poses for astronauts with a physical disability,” ESA said.

“I have a pretty interesting focus or viewpoint on the human nature of space exploration [in] the first cohort of astronauts with a physical disability,” said [VIDEO] McFall.

He said the team not only needed to undergo astronaut training, but in doing so they also needed to figure out “what it means to have a physical disability that makes it more difficult and to overcome those hurdles.”

“I’m actually interested in the science of space exploration. What actually happens to someone with a lower limb amputation in microgravity? What happens to his stump? And the science around things like that: how is training in space different?” added McFall.

The 17 were chosen from a pool of 23,000 candidates interested in becoming an astronaut. That number was reduced to 1,391 in January — 29 of whom were considered potential parastronauts.

ESA hopes that including people with disabilities in its astronaut program will set an industry standard. Having successful candidates who don’t meet the 130cm height or are physically disabled would have been unthinkable a few years ago – and is still elusive [PDF] at NASA.

Becoming an astronaut has already lost some of its exclusivity as private space tourism ventures have matured. Last December, the FAA ended its Commercial Space Astronaut Wings program because the list of qualifiers was growing too quickly. Against this background, the decision to study the accessibility of space travel does not come too early.

“The message I want to convey to future generations is that science is for everyone – and hopefully space can be for everyone,” McFall said in his ESA video.

The new astronauts will begin their duties at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany, where they will complete 12 months of basic training and then be ready for space station training. If they are assigned to an assignment, further training follows.

This time, ESA has also set up a reserve pool of astronauts. These people are given a consulting contract and basic support and basic training should a future flight opportunity arise. ® John McFall • The Register

Rick Schindler

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