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Who will become history’s first ‘parastronaut’? 

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The first astronaut — or astronauts — with a physical disability could be announced as soon as Wednesday, according to the European Space Agency.

People with physical disabilities have previously been excluded from one of the most exclusive and demanding jobs on Earth — and beyond — due to strict selection requirements.

After carrying out a feasibility study, the ESA said potential candidates could include people who have deficiencies in their lower limbs, whether from amputation or congenital defects.

The educational and psychological requirements for the candidates remained the same as for any other astronaut. Applications closed in June 2021.

While Weerts said the parastronaut project runs somewhat separately, “there is a real possibility that as part of the announcement one or more people with disabilities” will also be presented.

In the extremely precise world of space travel, even small alterations can become extremely complicated — and expensive.

“What does that mean for someone who is a shorter size? How can we make sure that person can just reach the buttons?”

As a member of the selection panel, Weerts could not reveal details about particular candidates.

“We have encountered absolutely marvellous individuals,” he said.

“It’s really something that we all believe in,” he said, adding that there was a high level of commitment to the project from ESA’s partners.

“Space is a not a business for people who are in a hurry,” Weerts said.

But he did say that an astronaut with a disability could launch into space “potentially in the next 10 years”.

Kamran Mallick, the chief executive of the charity Disability Rights UK, said the project was “incredibly exciting”.

“If we are truly to explore the universe, we have to accept that we can’t just have it solely for a particular group of individuals.”

“I’m a wheelchair user, and it is far better that people ask me what works for me, what I would need, rather than making assumptions of what someone can or cannot do,” he said.

“Of course, I was quickly told that was not going to happen. Don’t aspire to be an astronaut,” he said.


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