INCLUSIVITY For the first time, the European Space Agency (ESA) has selected a candidate with a disability
ESA's new parastronaut, John McFall, a former British Paralympic sprinter, poses during the ESA Council in Paris, Wednesday November 23, 2022. — Francois Mori/AP/SIPA
- The European Space Agency (ESA) on Wednesday appointed five new astronauts, including two women. To this class of 2022 is added a “parastronaut”, John McFall.
- The role of this British doctor will be to study the contribution of people with disabilities to the space adventure.
- 20 Minutes looks at the challenges of this unprecedented recruitment thanks to the insight of Estelle Moraux, lecturer in astrophysics at the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble and finalist during the 2008 recruitment and Guillaume Weerts, former doctor in chief of astronauts within the ESA.
For the first time, the European Space Agency (ESA) has selected a candidate with a disability. The British doctor, ex-paralympic champion, John McFall has joined his training program. This 41-year-old man, amputated of the right leg after a motorcycle accident 19 years old, will take part in training as a “parastronaut”. But what challenges does this recruitment represent? What is the purpose of this program? 20 Minutesexamines this recruitment thanks to; the lighting of Estelle Moraux, lecturer in astrophysics at the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble and finalist in the recruitment of 2008 and Guillaume Weerts, former chief medical officer for astronauts within the ESA.
What is the ;objective of the program « parastronaut ”?
The “parastronaut” should make it possible to study the challenge that sending a disabled astronaut would represent. in space and to find solutions to overcome it. “With my scientific background and my different experiences, I felt that I had to try to help ESA to achieve this. respond to the question: can we send a person with a physical disability into space to do meaningful work there?”said John McFall during the presentation ceremony on Wednesday. of the new promotion of astronauts.
It’s a form of “feasibility study”, explains Guillaume Weerts. “We will have to define the problems, how to test them, make an analysis of all the potential risks, define their gravity, their probability, their possible solutions,” lists the former chief medical officer for astronauts at ESA, who specifies that the program will last “between five and ten” years, according to a “rough estimate”. The ESA had opened its last selection process to three different types of disability, on the lower limbs, a difference in the length of the lower limbs or a height less than 1m30.
The handicap of the new parastronaut is “not embarrassing in the profession of astronaut where it’s not. there is no gravity and you don’t have to stand up,” the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble. “Not all disabilities are compatible” especially for those of the upper limbs in the event of “extra-vehicular exit or” both hands allow you to hold on all the time,” she says, however. “The space environment is not trivial, it’s not an environment to which the human body is accustomed, not everyone will be able to go there,” agrees Guillaume Weerts.
< h2>What challenges does this recruitment represent?
The European Space Agency is aware of the diversity disabilities. “The concept of disability is not a very clear definition, there are multiple situations of disability so we can’t make general rules, we need to evaluations on a case-by-case basis”, emphasizes Guillaume Weerts. “The selection itself isn’t very physical, we’re not asked to be athletes,” was among the last ten finalists in 2008 – six were selected.
“The first stage is that of the file, followed by a stage of psychotechnical and English tests and finally psychological interviews and team exercises under constraint,” she lists, noting however “a week of medical tests” which was “not very physical”. However, until now people with disabilities were eliminated from the outset. This is “perhaps the most essential point of this project” notes Guillaume Weerts. “We are moving from intangible rules for all to individual situations” and the notion of “disability” to that of “d’ability” (in this context of “disability” to “capacity”).
“You will have to adapt to the every time and do it on a case-by-case basis,” confirms Estelle Moraux. However, ESA hopes to achieve set up a form of roadmap. “What is important in the project is to develop the methodology, we will base ourselves on a concrete case to extrapolate,” explains Guillaume Weerts. The astronaut recruitment process could become less exclusionary. “Instead of saying “ah you have this, goodbye”, we could say “we will see if it's possible anyway”” and thus take into account disabilities as “personal characteristics”, simplifies the former chief medical officer of the ESA.
Is the symbolic message essential ?
“You can’t promise to take everyone and be fully inclusive,”that won’t be possible. But this program means that we’re ready to look how far we can go and what needs to be done to be more inclusive,” explains Guillaume Weerts. A message of inclusivity essential. “There is a real effort and it’s also to motivate an entire population who saw themselves as excluded, who thought it was impossible for them when we realize that it’s not not the case,” decrypts Estelle Moraux.
John McFall said he was “incredibly proud and excited” to have been selected : “It felt like a whirlwind, because, being an amputee, I had never thought of it. that becoming an astronaut was a possibility.” “These are jobs that make you dream and seem impossible to do. achieve. It is therefore very important to pay attention to inclusion to show that it’s accessible to everyone. many people and in order to prevent them from censoring themselves,” underlines Estelle Moraux who adds that the representation is essential.
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“”The message I want to give to future generations is that science is for everyone and that space travel can hopefully be for everyone,” John McFall after his selection. “Everyone” but with at least a master's degree, three languages spoken fluently, three years of professional experience, under 50 years old and exceptional intellectual and psychological abilities.