Disabled astronauts are getting closer to being a reality

The ESA no longer excludes people with physical disabilities from astronaut selection.


The European Space Agency ( ESA ) will give the possibility to people with physical disabilities to become astronauts , participating in orbital flights. A first in the history of space conquest.

This unprecedented “Parastronaut Feasibility Project” will be presented on Wednesday, after the 22 ESA Member States define their budget in Paris.

A new astronaut class will also be announced at the meeting , which will succeed the 2009 class, which will be made up of between four and six selected from the nearly 23,000 European candidates.

Until now, people with physical disabilities were excluded from the selections, known for their high degree of difficulty.

“The Parastronaut Feasibility Project requires a complete change of philosophy” on medical fitness, a concept of military origin intended to select fighter pilots, Guillaume Weerts, ESA ‘s chief astronaut physician, told AFP .

When the recruitment campaign began in February 2021, the agency announced that it would open the doors of the space to one or more candidates with disabilities in the lower extremities (due to amputation or congenital malformation). Their names could be revealed on Wednesday.

People of less than 1.30 meters or with asymmetrical legs are also eligible. The intellectual and psychological skills required are the same as for other astronauts.

“We have dealt with a great group of candidates and we have met some incredible people,” says Weerts, who participated in the different stages of the selection.

The process “demonstrated that disability is not a limitation.” In parallel, ESA started a “feasibility study” on sending a “parastronaut” on board a manned flight, for example, for a stay on the International Space Station (ISS).

First parastronaut… not so soon

In the extremely precise universe of space travel , even small modifications can become extremely complicated and expensive.

For example, existing systems are designed for people of a certain size. So how can we make sure that “a short person has access to the buttons?” asks the ESA manager .

The agency plans to work with the selected individuals to find the best way to identify and overcome these potential difficulties.