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British Paralympian John McFall becomes European Space Agency’s first disabled astronaut

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A Briton will be the European Space Agency’s first disabled astronaut.

John McFall, from Frimley in Surrey, was selected by the ESA to join its training programme and could be the first disabled person to go into space.

The 41-year-old lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident when he was 19 and went on to compete for Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the Paralympic Games.

No major Western space agency has ever put a “para-astronaut” into space, according to the ESA.

Mr McFall will join the space training corps to see if he can be the first disabled person to go into space.

He said the opportunity was “inspiring and exhilarating”.

He added: “With my broad scientific background and a vast range of experiences, I felt compelled to try and help ESA answer this question: Can we get someone with a physical disability to do meaningful work in space?”

British astronomer Rosemary Coogan has also been named as a member of the new cohort.

Ms Coogan has two master’s degrees from the University of Durham and a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Sussex.

She is among six career astronauts to join the ESA workforce as permanent staff members.

The career astronauts also include Sophie Adenot from France, Pablo Alvarez Fernandez from Spain, Raphael Liegeois from Belgium and Marco Sieber from Switzerland.

Rosemary Coogan
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Rosemary Coogan

Meganne Christian, who was born in the UK and studied in Australia, successfully completed the astronaut selection process and will become a member of the ESA’s astronaut reserve.

The reserve team consists of candidates who were successful throughout the entire selection process and were not recruited.

Sophie Adenot
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Sophie Adenot

They were among over 22,500 candidates who applied, a list which included more women than ever and some 200 people with disabilities.

Some 1,361 were invited to phase two of ESA’s astronaut selection following a comprehensive screening phase. The pool was narrowed to just over 400 candidates during phase three.

During the ESA’s last call for astronauts in 2008, 8,413 provided a medical certificate and finalised their online application.

Among them was Tim Peake, who became the first British astronaut to be part of the ESA corps.

The finalist candidates have undergone intensive screening over the past year.

Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “This is a momentous day for the UK Space Agency, our space sector and the country as a whole.

“Through our investment in the European Space Agency, the UK is playing a leading role in space exploration and collaborating with international partners to use the unique vantage point of space to benefit life on Earth.”

“Space has an incredible power to inspire and I am sure Rosemary, John and Meganne will become heroes for many young people and inspire them to shoot for the stars.

“It’s also important to remember that, behind every astronaut, there is a dedicated team of people, including in the UK, working behind the scenes to achieve the incredible.”

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