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British Paralympian McFall 'inspired' to become astronaut candidate

John McFall, a British athlete who has competed in the Paralympic Games, has become the first disabled astronaut candidate with the European Space Agency. Photo courtesy of ESA
John McFall, a British athlete who has competed in the Paralympic Games, has become the first disabled astronaut candidate with the European Space Agency. Photo courtesy of ESA

Nov. 24 (UPI) -- John McFall, a British athlete who has competed in the Paralympic Games, has become the first disabled astronaut candidate with the European Space Agency.

McFall, 41, is among 17 new astronaut candidates selected by the ESA from a pool of more than 22,500 applicants from across Europe, the space agency said in a statement.

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He was selected to take part in the ESA's Parastronaut Feasibility Project to improve the scientific understanding of "the barriers space flight presents for astronauts with a physical disability."

McFall was involved in a motorcycle accident that led to the amputation of his right leg at the age of 19, according to ESA.

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He then became a professional track and field athlete and competed for Britain in the Paralympic Games, winning the Bronze Medal in the 100m dash in Beijing in 2008.

Before his Paralympic aspirations, McFall completed his bachelor's degree from Swansea University in 2004 and his master's degree from University of Wales Institute in Cardiff in 2005.

McFall has also obtained a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery from the Cardiff University School of Medicine in 2014 and joined the Royal College of Surgeons in 2016. He is currently a trauma and orthopedic specialist registrar working in the south of England.

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"When ESA announced that they were looking for candidates with a physical disability to run this astronaut feasibility project, I looked at the person specification and it just kind of jumped out to me," McFall told the BBC. "I felt so inspired by it. I felt compelled to apply."

The feasibility study is being conducted by the ESA with NASA, who are trying to first determine whether a disabled astronaut would compromise the safety of other crew members.

The new cohort also includes two other members from Britain, Rosemary Coogan and Meganne Christian.

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The British Space Command agency congratulated its three citizens on their accomplishment in being named to the ESA program.

"I would like to send the congratulations of everyone at UK Space Command to the European Space Agency's new class of astronauts, and our very best wishes to Rosemary Coogan, John McFall and Meganne Christian," Air Vice-Marshal Paul Godfrey said in a statement.

"Human spaceflight expands our knowledge and inspired people all around the world. We look forward to seeing your team at the forefront of this remarkable endeavor."

Current and former NASA astronauts including Scott Kelly and Jessica Meir also congratulated the entire ESA class in statements on Twitter.

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Koichi Wakata, an astronaut with the Japanese space agency JAXA, was also among those sending congratulations.

"I've flown in space with many of your colleagues and they are such an incredible group," Kelly said in his statement. "I envy you as you start this new adventure!"

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