UK Paralympic athlete in latest influx of ESA astronauts | Science

A Paralympic sprinter from the UK has been named among the latest influx of astronauts recruited by the European Space Agency.

John McFall, 41, will become the first physically disabled astronaut, or para-astronaut, recruited by the space agency to overcome the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating in space missions.

Also a member of the astronaut class of 2022, the agency’s first new recruits since 2009, is Dr Rosemary Coogan, 31, who spent time on the Royal Navy reserve and earned a PhD in astronomy before joining the French space agency to work.

Coogan becomes the first British woman to join ESA as a career astronaut and the second person from the UK to join the agency’s astronaut corps after Tim Peake, a member of the class of 2009.

Another UK-born scientist, Dr Meganne Christian, 34, who worked in Antarctica before lecturing in Italy on problem solving and decision making, is joining ESA’s astronaut reserve.

A new venture for ESA, the reserve consists of astronauts who have passed the selection process but will keep their regular jobs until a mission opportunity presents itself.

Announcing the new intake at the Grand Palais Éphémère in Paris, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said they were all “incredible people” who had been chosen for their intellectual abilities and their ability to make quick decisions under pressure. and “pressing the right buttons and not the wrong ones”.

The Class of 2022 will train for missions that usher in a new era of human spaceflight. They will focus less on the International Space Station and more on building a new outpost that will orbit the moon, in addition to missions to the lunar surface itself.

The European Space Agency hopes to land its first astronaut on the moon before the end of the decade in preparation for future missions to Mars. Humans have not set foot on the moon since Apollo 17 in December 1972.

ESA received more than 22,000 valid applications for the four-stage selection process, which includes a full medical assessment of health and physical ability, group exercises, practical tests, extensive psychological assessments and multiple interviews.

Only 1,361 candidates made it to the second selection stage, along with 27 of the 257 candidates with a physical disability.

McFall, who said he hoped to “bring inspiration” to others, had to meet all the demanding psychological, cognitive, technical and professional requirements for the astronaut corps.

Candidates were eligible if they had specific lower limb defects such as a lower limb amputation, shortened limbs at birth or due to an accident, or were less than 130 cm tall.

Coogan, who goes straight into training as a career astronaut, has two master’s degrees from the University of Durham and a PhD in astronomy from the University of Sussex. She speaks English, French and German.

Christian holds a PhD in Industrial Chemistry from the University of New South Wales and worked at Concordia Station in Antarctica from 2018 to 2019.

McFall, who lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident, will participate in ESA’s parastronaut feasibility project as part of an effort – the first by any of the world’s space agencies – to identify and overcome hurdles that have hitherto prevented people with physical disabilities from prevented from taking part in space missions.

The agency expects to work out adaptations to space hardware that would allow people with physical disabilities to serve as professional crew members.

ESA’s web pages state that the agency cannot guarantee a flight for the disabled astronaut, but adds that it can “commit to trying as hard and seriously as possible”.

The largest share of respondents to ESA’s ad, almost a third, came from France, followed by a sixth from Germany and 2,000 from the UK. The new recruits will be stationed at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne and train for at least three years in facilities in Germany, the US and elsewhere. To prepare them to work well under pressure, in a confined space and with minimal privacy, equipment and comfort, the astronauts take a three-week course in a network of caves.

Leave a Comment