The European Space Agency on Wednesday selected a disabled former athlete to be among its newest astronaut recruits as part of its first recruitment drive in over a decade that aimed to bring diversity to space travel.
Six new astronauts were announced including two women as well as parastronaut John McFall, a British former Paralympic sprinter who will take part in a potentially groundbreaking feasibility study to explore whether physical disability will impair space travel.
To date, no major Western space agency has ever put a “para-astronaut” into space, according to the ESA.
The new recruits were among the more than 22,000 applicants who came forward in the hiring push announced February of last year by Europe’s equivalent to NASA. More women than ever and some 200 people with disabilities applied.
ESA specifically sought out people with physical disabilities, for a first-of-its-kind effort to determine what adaptations would be necessary to space stations to accommodate them.
Across the Atlantic, Houston is taking note. Dan Huot, a spokesman for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to the American agency’s astronaut corps, told the AP that “we at NASA are watching ESA’s para-astronaut selection process with great interest.”