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Who is John McFall, the first “parastronaut” in history

Potential first “parastronaut” in history

Briton John McFall, whose right leg was amputated after a serious motorcycle accident, has become the first astronaut with a disability to join the new class of the European Space Agency (ESA). At 41, he joined an unprecedented program aimed at studying the feasibility » spaceflight access to “parastronauts”. “When ESA announced that it was looking for a candidate with a physical disability, I saw an opportunity that combines all my passions: sport, medicine and science, glide to M the former Paralympic athlete now a doctor. Being selected is a privilege, but also a great responsibility. »

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Broke at 19

The youngest of three siblings, John McFall was born in Frimley, in the south of England, a region that the family crisscrossed according to the assignments of the father, a paratrooper in the British army. From this military lifestyle », he derives a passion for outdoor activities: hiking, climbing, running. We always listened to my father’s stories, he remembers. His experiences gave me this taste for adventure. » In August 2000, then aged 19, he had to give up his dream of joining the army. I was visiting the island of Koh Samui, in Thailand, by motorbike. I lost control in a turn. I was sent to a hospital in Bangkok where my right leg had to be amputated. »

Paralympic World Champion

After several months of rehabilitation – both physical and mental – John McFall returned to his passion: running. Once graduated from the sports sector of theUniversity of Wales Institute, in Cardiff, he became a Paralympic sprinter and won his first European medal in 2005. I was not specifically destined to become a Paralympic athlete, he says. I just wanted to see how far I was able to go. » Result: he was crowned world champion in the 100 meters and 200 meters in 2007, before winning the following year, a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics. In 2009, he put an end to his sports career and embarked on a new adventure: medical studies, from which he graduated in 2014.

A man of solutions

Married with three children, John McFall now practices as an orthopedic and trauma surgeon in Hampshire, England. Within the framework of ESA, the next challenge for this iron-willed science enthusiast is to study the difficulties associated with sending a person with a disability into space and to find the means to overcome them. A state of mind that the former champion has cultivated since his accident: After my amputation, it was never a question of asking me what I could no longer do, but rather of thinking about how to make it possible. » He who dreamed as a child of discovering the world could well, in a few years, continue his exploration beyond the atmosphere.

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