19 - 22 May 2026 OTWorld
23/04/2024 OTWorld

Into Weightlessness with a Prosthesis

John McFall, a former Paralympic sprinter and Consultant Traumatologist and Orthopaedic Surgeon, could soon be the first astronaut with a physical disability to fly into space. McFall, who lost his right leg in a motorbike accident at the age of 19, has proven that almost anything is possible with modern assistive technology. He is world champion in the 100 and 200 metre races for transfemoral amputees and is now pursuing a career that could take him into weightlessness.

In November 2022 McFall was selected as an Astronaut Reserve by the European Space Agency (ESA) to undertake an ESA led feasibility study named "Fly!". The aim of this study is to explore possibilities for including persons with physical disabilities (specifically, a lower limb amputation) as fully integrated members of an astronaut crew during a long duration mission to the International Space Station (ISS). With the tender, ESA has recognised that there could be people who are mentally and physically qualified for journeying to space, but who would not pass the medical selection because of their disability.

Into top-class Sport and Medicine after Amputation

After his accident and amputation in 2000, John not only learnt to move with a prosthesis, but also began running again. In 2003 he had a sprint prosthesis made that would allow him to train and compete on the athletics track at the highest level. At his first international competition, the European Championships of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in 2005 in Finland, he won a bronze medal in the 200-metres. Following this he was recruited to the United Kingdom’s World Class Podium Program, enabling him to become a full-time athlete. John went on to win numerous medals including silver in the 100m at the Bayer International Athletics Competition in Leverkusen in 2006 with a personal best time of 12.70 seconds. He also won world titles in 2007 at the World Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation in the 100 metres and 200 metres. In 2008, he competed for Great Britain at the 2008 Summer Paralympic Games in Beijing taking home bronze in 100 metres.

John McFall also got off to a flying start professionally: after completing Bachelors and Masters degrees in sport and exercise science, he went on to study medicine. From 2014 to 2016, he worked as a Foundation Doctor in the British National Health Service in various medical and surgical specialties in South East Wales. He then completed Core Surgical Training in general surgery, urology, traumatology and orthopaedics until 2018. In 2018, he secured a place on the UK National Trauma and Orthopaedic Specialist Training Programme and in April 2023 he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS), paving the way to becoming a Consultant Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon.

Find out more about John McFall and his mission here in the video.

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