Fri. Dec 2nd, 2022

The European Space Agency on Wednesday selected a disabled former athlete to be among its latest astronaut recruits as part of its first recruitment drive in more than a decade aimed at bringing diversity to space travel.

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Six new astronauts have been announced, including two women, as well as paraastronaut John McFall, a former British Paralympic sprinter who will take part in a potentially ground-breaking feasibility study to investigate whether a physical disability would affect space travel. To date, no major Western space agency has sent a “paraastronaut” into space, according to ESA.

The new hires were among more than 22,000 candidates who applied for a job competition announced last February by the European equivalent of NASA. More women than ever and about 200 people with disabilities signed up.

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ESA specifically sought out people with physical disabilities, for the first attempt of its kind to determine what adjustments would be needed for the space station to accommodate them.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Houston is taking note. Dan Huot, a spokesman for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, which houses the US agency’s astronaut corps, told the AP that “we at NASA are following ESA’s paraastronaut selection process with great interest.”

Huot acknowledged that “NASA’s selection criteria currently remains the same,” but said the agency looks forward to working with “new astronauts in the future” from partners like ESA.

NASA has emphasized that it has a safety-conscious process in place to screen future astronauts who may find themselves in life-threatening situations.

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“For maximum crew safety, current NASA requirements require each crew member to have no health problems that could impair or worsen a person’s ability to participate in spaceflight, as determined by NASA physicians,” added Huot.

NASA said future “assistive technology” could be a game-changer for “some candidates” to meet its stringent safety requirements.

ESA’s ground-breaking recruitment campaign did not specifically address ethnic diversity, but emphasized the importance of “representing all parts of our society”.

The European agency received applications from all 25 member and associate countries, although the majority came from traditional heavyweights France, Germany, Britain and Italy.

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At the two-day ESA council from Tuesday to Wednesday in Paris, France, Germany and Italy also announced an agreement on Tuesday to design a next-generation European space launch vehicle as part of an apparent effort to better compete with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and other US rocket programs. and China.

© 2022 The Canadian Press