Able2Do Anything: Achievements

John McFall trains to become the world’s first disabled astronaut

John Mcfall

Former Paralympian John McFall is working with the European Space Agency [ESA] to see if a person with a physical disability could live and work in space.

One of the many tests he has to endure is being locked inside a claustrophobic metal box, known as a centrifuge, before being whizzed around frantically stimulating the sensation of a rocket launch.

"The faster it spins, the higher the G load," McFall told BBC News.

"And today we're going to be going up to about 6 Gs - so six times the force of gravity. It replicates what it would be like during re-entry into the atmosphere in a Soyuz capsule."

McFall was chosen by the ESA in 2022 as the first disabled astronaut as part of a ground-breaking study to determine if space is a safe place for disabled explorers.

He usually uses state-of-the-art prosthesis, after losing the lower part of his right leg in a motorcycle crash when he was 19.

But the artificial limb is being removed as part of the study, so ESA flight surgeon Maybritt Kuypers can monitor the effects of the centrifuge on his upper-leg.

Kuypers said: "It's the first time we have had an amputee in the centrifuge.

"The astronaut is basically lying on their back in a sort of seated position, so this influences the blood flow - also in the leg. We were curious to see how that would affect him, but it went really well."

McFall's current job is that of an orthopaedic surgeon, but he has taken time out from his medic career to potentially become the first disabled astronaut in space.

The Centrifuge which will spin John McFall to mimic extreme gravitational forces

The Centrifuge which will spin John McFall to mimic extreme gravitational forces

As well as spinning around like an Alton Towers ride out of control, he is also using an anti-gravity treadmill, which is stimulating anti-gravity conditions found on board the International Space Station [ISS].

The treadmill reduces his weight by 80 percent, which interferes with his blade.

"I notice that the blade is too stiff," he explained. "That's because I'm lighter and putting less force into the blade, so it's bending less, and therefore giving me less spring back."

McFall now feels he needs more than one prosthetic leg if he is given the green light to be launched into space.

"There would be a prosthesis for running, a back up for the microprocessor prosthesis, and then there's the mechanical one, which will probably need to be worn inside the spacesuit for launch and return," he told the BBC.

"I'll need a bit of a wardrobe of prosthetic hardware."

This is the first time ESA has considered putting a disabled person in space, Frank De Winne [head of the organisation] wants intergalactic travel to be more accessible.

"We think this is a great opportunity because we have so many great talents - people that have a disability, like we see with John," Winne said.

"Why should we not try to harvest this talent for great missions like astronaut missions?"

McFall left his family in the UK so he could train to be an astronaut in Germany, but what does his wife and former Olympic gymnast Sonia think of having to look after their three young kids Fin, Isla and Immy whilst daddy is preparing to be the disabled equivalent of Neil Armstrong?

"It's a big thing in our family that you go for every opportunity," the understanding wife said. "And for me, this was an opportunity and he's gone and taken it. I hope he gets the reward for it, which is eventually going to space and showing people that it's possible."

[ Some stars are so cool, you could touch them without scalding your hand. ]

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