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Amputee discovers prosthetics may be of no benefit in space

John McFall experiencing weightlessness

John McFall made history last November to become the European Space Agency’s [ESA] first para-astronaut, but his prosthesis may be useless when he enters earth's orbit because of microgravity.

The 42-year-old former Paralympian became an amputee at the age of 19 in a life-changing motorcycle accident, he now uses a high-tech prosthesis equipped with a gyroscope, microprocessor and force sensors to enable him to stay upright.

This week McFall made a parabolic flight with the BBC to simulate weightlessness for the first time where he discovered his prosthetic leg may be of little use in space.

“You’ll probably see I’m floating around with my leg out straight, because that gravity isn’t there,” he told the BBC.

“It’s harder for me to turn quickly - because my leg doesn’t want to bend.

“I’m just getting used to that and working out how I can move myself in zero-g, but each parabola is a learning opportunity.

“Will I wear a prosthesis? And if I wear a prosthesis, will I have to have something that will accommodate variations in volume in my stump?

“Would I be able to run on a treadmill in space? Will we have to adapt a spacesuit for a spacewalk? If so, in what ways? All these questions are things we do not have answers for.”

McFall’s mission will see him advise the ESA on its “parastronaut feasibility project” advising the agency which measures need to be taken if they decide to send disabled people into space.

The ESA wants to make it accessible for amputees, people of short stature and those with physical disabilities to go into space.

[ John McFall won bronze in the 100 metre T42 category at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games finishing with a time of 13.08 seconds. ]

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