Paralympian John McFall, 41, could be set to boldly go where no other disabled person has gone before: outer space. The Bronze medal winning Northern Ireland athlete has become the first disabled person to be recruited by the European Space Agency for a potential space mission, alongside another Northern Ireland resident, astronomer Rosemary Coogan.
McFall bested 200 other candidates to successfully win a place in the ESA’s space training corps with the agency looking to send a disabled person into space as part of a feasibility study. Speaking about his recruitment, the para-astronaut in the making said the opportunity was “inspiring and exhilarating.
“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?”
McFall lost his right leg in a moped accident when he was 19 but went on to become a professional track and field athlete. He represented Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics where he earned bronze in the 100m (T42) and has been considered one of the fastest men in the world over 100 metres and 200 metres in the class of above-the-knee amputees.
In 2021, and for the first time since 2008, the ESA launched a call for applications, receiving more than 22,500 valid applications. Alongside McFall and 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 ESA’s para-astronaut feasibility project was launched in 2021 to “to identify potential adaptations to eventually enable an astronaut with a physical disability to fly to space. This project will open an opportunity of flight for one or more individuals. Along the way, it will bring innovations and other benefits to the safety and efficiency of future crews.”
The 17 successful candidates were introduced to the world by the ESA at the Grand Palais Éphémère in Paris, France. McFell and Coogan become the first people from the UK to earn a place with the ESA since Tim Peake was selected in 2008 and eventually launched to the International Space Station in December 2015.