Europe names world’s first disabled astronaut

European nations agree to boost space spending
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PARIS, Nov 23 (Reuters) – The European Space Agency on Wednesday named the first ever “parastronaut” in a major step towards allowing people with physical disabilities to work and live in space.

The 22-nation agency said it had appointed British Paralympic sprinter John McFall to take part in a feasibility study during astronaut training to assess the conditions needed for people with disabilities to take part in future missions.

The announcement came as ESA appointed a new set of astronauts for the first time since 2009 after whittling down 22,500 valid applications.

ESA posted openings last year for people fully capable of passing its usual stringent psychological, cognitive and other tests who are only prevented from becoming astronauts due to the constraints of existing hardware in light of their disability.

It received 257 applications for the role of astronaut with a disability.

McFall will work with ESA engineers to understand what changes in hardware are needed to open professional spaceflight to a wider group of qualified candidates, the agency said. 

European nations agree to boost space spending

PARIS, Nov 23 (Reuters) – European nations agreed on Wednesday to boost their spending on space by 17% over coming years as competition intensifies with the United States and China, but failed to come up with a package being sought in talks overshadowed by war in Ukraine.

The European Space Agency said ministers from its 22 member states had agreed to provide 16.9 billion euros for projects from Mars exploration to climate research in 2023-25, up from 14.5 billion euros in the previous triennial budget period.

“This gives Europe the political, scientific and financial means to reinforce its space sovereignty between the United States and China,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said after hosting a ritual bartering round held every three years.

Paris-based ESA had asked its 22 nations to come up with 18.5 billion euros ($19.06 billion) to fund rocket launches, satellites and Europe’s participation in planetary research.

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher hailed the resulting extra 2.4 billion euros of pledges as a significant achievement given troubled economies, and said programmes would be adjusted but not dropped to meet the gap with the 4 billion ESA wanted.

“We will have to see what may be done and what may not be done at the same scale as was planned before,” he said.

A delegate from a major contributing country had earlier indicated that the pot may be smaller than anticipated after side talks dragged late into Tuesday evening.

“We are getting there; the total is coming up nicely. It may not get all the way there but (we) will be close,” he said.

Germany, which since 2019 has been ESA’s biggest financial backer ahead of France, dug its heels in over aspects of the proposed increase as talks ran long, another delegate said.

A key last-minute stumbling block was the detailed funding of Europe’s Ariane and Vega rocket launch network.

ESA, whose Ariane rocket pioneered commercial launches but now faces intense competition from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is seeking to maintain a key role in space while balancing political constraints of its large and small nations.

The funding exercise in a hangar-like temporary conference centre near the Eiffel Tower involved back-to-back rounds in which nations chipped in to areas like exploration or Earth observation in return for industrial work.

Ministers and officials took their horse-trading into a dinner reception at the Paris Opera on Tuesday and then into the night as several nations organised “splinter meetings”. 

Small countries were seen as making painful efforts to come up with budgets guaranteeing new skilled jobs under ESA’s quid-pro-quo “fair return” system as the deadline neared for a deal.

“Every figure is committing nations; it is not just an Excel spreadsheet,” a person familiar with the talks said.

In a joint declaration on Tuesday, Europe’s big three space launch nations – France, Germany and Italy – opened the door to a new generation of microlaunchers and a future review of funding rules in the face of U.S. and Chinese space ambitions.

ESA Director General Josef Ashbacher said the politically significant move had “unlocked” negotiations in other areas.

($1 = 0.9709 euros)

(Reporting by Tim Hepher; editing by Richard Lough and Bernadette Baum)

(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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