Old Millfieldian John McFall has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) to be the first disabled astronaut.
John who is from Frimley Surrey, attended Millfield between 1994 and 1997 and has just been selected to be one of the next generation space astronauts for the ESA and the first ever “para-astronaut”. John was one of the 17 people selected out of 22,500 who had applied to join the astronaut training programme in 2021, of which 200 of those were disabled. This is the first time in over a decade that the ESA have recruited for a new generation of astronauts and asked for people to apply who are psychologically and professionally qualified to be an astronaut however have physical disabilities that would usually prevent them from being one. John will be part of the Feasibility Project, which will develop options for the indivision of astronauts with physical disabilities in the future.
John is one of two Brits to be selected along with Rosemary Coogan, who is from Northern Ireland. The new astronauts will start a 12-month training programme in spring 2023. If successful John could be the first disabled person to go into space.
During his time at Millfield, John boarded in Orchards house and was part of the athletics team. In 2015, John said, “For me when I was 13 to 17-years-old the important things were learning about joining in, about interacting with others, about sport, getting involved and being part of wider society. I don’t think there are many schools in the world let alone in Britain which can teach you skills such as that better than Millfield. So, if I had not gone to Millfield, I don’t think I would have been perhaps as well equipped to deal with what life had to throw at me in the future.”
After leaving Millfield, John was in a serious motorcycle accident in Thailand in 2000, where he lost his right leg above the knee. John continued to pursue his sporting career and learnt to run again, representing Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a Paralympic sprinter, and winning a bronze medal for the 100m sprint in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. John was also the winner of the Old Millfieldian of the Year award in 2008.