Thursday, December 1, 2022

A Briton will be the first disabled astronaut in the history of the European Space Agency

British John McFall is the first person with a physical disability to become an astronaut for the European Space Agency (ESA). The organization has announced this Wednesday the new promotion of professionals who will be able to participate in manned flights into space and for the first time a place has been offered for people with some type of disability. McFall, 41, has a degree in Medicine and Surgery from Cardiff University Medical School, UK, as detailed by ESA itself. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 2016 and is currently a specialist Trauma and Orthopedic Registrar working in the South of England. He also has a background in sports and exercise science, a subject in which he is a graduate of Swansea University.

McFall has had a physical disability since he was 19 years old. At that age, he suffered a motorcycle accident in which his right leg was amputated. The Briton, a native of Frimley, in the south of the United Kingdom, had to relearn how to run and not only that: he became a professional athlete in 2005. He even came to represent Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a Paralympic sprinter. During his time as a top athlete, John sat on the UK Athletics Athletes Council. Then, in 2012, combining it with his studies in Medicine, he mentored the innovative Paralympic Inspiration Program. This project, delivered by Paralympics GB, supported aspiring future Paralympic athletes. He was also an ambassador and attaché for the International Paralympic Committee at the London 2012 Paralympics.

At the start of her medical studies, in 2009, she worked as a Nursing Assistant at the Marie Curie Hospice in Cardiff, UK, for two years. He graduated in Medicine in 2014, the year in which he began working as a Foundation Physician with the British National Health Service. Between 2016 and 2018, she completed basic surgical training covering general surgery, urology, and trauma and orthopedics at Wessex Deanery, UK.

In November 2022, ESA selected him to participate in the Parastronaut Feasibility Project. With the program for astronauts with disabilities, the European space agency wants to enter a new era, in which to study the conditions and technologies that guarantee safe missions also for people with disabilities and in cooperation with ESA’s other commercial and international partners. McFall has been chosen among the 257 candidates who presented themselves to fill that position.

Applicants, coming from one of the 22 ESA member countries or an associated state, had to have a minimum of a master’s degree and three years of experience in mathematics, engineering, computer science or medicine, among other sectors, in addition to knowing English and a second language.

Two Spaniards among those selected

Among those selected from the new promotion of astronauts for this year are the Spaniards Pablo Álvarez and Sara García, both from León, chosen 30 years after Pedro Duque achieved it.

Pablo Álvarez will be part of the ESA astronaut staff. He is an aeronautical engineer from the University of León and has a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Polytechnic University of Warsaw. He worked as a structural engineer for various Airbus aircraft programmes, both in Spain, France and the United Kingdom, and as a mechanical architect for the European Space Agency’s ExoMars Rover program stationed at Airbus Defense and Space in the United Kingdom. In recent years, he worked as head of Airbus projects in Spain, supporting projects in the company’s production plants.

For her part, Sara González will form part of the reserve astronaut team, made up of the candidates who have passed the entire selection process, but have not been incorporated into the titular body. González studied the degree and master’s degree in Biotechnology at the University of León. Subsequently, she completed her doctoral thesis at the Salamanca Cancer Research Center and is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the National Cancer Research Center (CNIO), the largest cancer research organization in Spain, under the Ministry of Science and Innovation.

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