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PARIS (Reuters) – The European Space Agency (ESA) named its first “parastronaut” on Wednesday in a major step towards enabling people with physical disabilities to work and live in space.

The 22-nation agency said it had selected former British Paralympic sprinter John McFall as part of a new generation of 17 recruits chosen for astronaut training.

He will participate in a feasibility study that will allow ESA to assess the conditions necessary for people with disabilities to participate in future missions.

“It’s been quite a turbulent experience as, as an amputee, I never thought being an astronaut was a possibility, so the excitement was a huge thrill,” McFall said in an interview posted on the ESA website.

He will join five new career astronauts and 11 reserves in training after the ESA replenished its astronaut ranks for the first time since 2009.

The ESA published vacancies last year for people who are fully capable of passing their usual psychological, cognitive and other tests. In theory, volunteers would only be prevented from becoming astronauts in the case of incompatibilities or hardware restrictions with their deficiencies.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher and Yiming Woo; Additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan in London)

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