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257 people with disabilities want to go to space: Parastronaut calls home – Paralympics Zeitung

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Bernd Schwien has one goal: the universe. The 58-year-old man wants to see the Earth from above, the blue planet in the middle of dark space. I would like to be an astronaut for the European Space Agency (ESA). Escape from this land at a speed of several thousand kilometers per hour. towards the stars.

Schwien is a professor of social management at the Nordhausen University of Applied Sciences in Thuringia. After a motorcycle accident – ​​“a total loss, everything was a disaster”, says Schwien – his left leg was amputated at the age of 19. Since then, he, who used to work for prosthetics maker Ottobock as a product manager and helped develop a computer-aided prosthetic, has been wearing an artificial leg. An astronaut with a prosthesis? The world doesn’t know that. At least not yet.

The fact that Bernd Schwien dreams of going into space has a lot to do with an ESA announcement in the spring of 2021. Just over a year ago, the organization announced that it would also consider people with disabilities in its new round of applications for astronauts. – provided that they all meet the conditions that non-disabled astronauts must also meet. These include a master’s degree in science or a pilot’s license, knowledge of English and citizenship in an ESA member country.

Schwien is an enthusiastic pilot

Media coverage was enormous: parastronaut, a neologism for parasport and astronaut, became a hashtag on social media. And it was celebrated as a sign of inclusion and respect. Bernd Schwien learned of the ESA action through a report. In fact, he knew right away that he would run, he says today. So he filled out the application form and sent it to ESA. Because he always knew he had to aim high.

If you want to understand why Schwien works the way it does, you need to know a few things about him: First of all, Bernd Schwien is a very rational thinker. When asked if he wasn’t a little afraid of her, he laughs and then answers rather curtly: no. Schwien says, “If you’re afraid of something, then you have to turn the fear into a risk.” You can evaluate that and learn to deal with it.

Second, Schwien is a big fan of Forrest Gump, the 1994 American film in which the main character travels through world history. Forrest Gump is a life-affirming individual. And Schwien has a very similar attitude. He can’t help it, he says. When he woke up in intensive care after the fatal accident, he immediately began planning for his future. He says: “I immediately started to make my way, I started to move on with my life. It’s part of what saved me.” His personal motto: “Carpe diem”. He Lives the day.

And last but not least: Schwien is a keen driver and he wanted to be when he was eight years old. He talks about gyrocopters and single-engines like others talk about the Bundesliga. He got his pilot’s license when he was already wearing a prosthetic limb. Many flight instructors were skeptical at first, Schwien says today. He had to prove himself. Him repeatedly parking and unparking a machine, driving it across the ground while other student pilots were already trying their luck in the air. Schwien was convincing, he pulled it off, and then he got permission to fly. That was a good 30 years ago.

ESA does not guarantee a flight to space

So now the space. Schwien is happy with the ESA initiative, saying: “I think it’s a great sign. It could show that people with disabilities also have what it takes to be astronauts.” But Schwien is also critical of, for example, the astronaut manual, which the ESA also recommends to applicants with disabilities. But it doesn’t suit them.

Another weakness of the ESA program: only people with restricted leg or foot functions, people whose legs are of different lengths, and people of short stature could apply. Other shortcomings have not been taken into account for the time being. But ESA is open about it: the “Parastronaut Feasibility Project” is a pilot project, it wants to explore the possibilities and see what conclusions can be drawn from it. ESA cannot guarantee a flight into space, but of course we will work to achieve it.

Bernd Schwien is a keen driver and he wanted to be when he was eight years old.Photo: promotion

Since last December, Bernd Schwien’s chances of making a trip to space have diminished considerably. On Saint Nicholas day, the 58-year-old received a letter from the ESA: he was too old, no exceptions could be made for him. Even if Bernd Schwien says that his perceived age does not correspond to his calendar age, the news was not a surprise. He had been in contact with ESA for a long time on the subject. He’s not disappointed, he says: “It’s crucial that I be able to do what’s important to me in life. That also includes failure.” In addition, he has often experienced activities that were denied him suddenly becoming possible. From driving a car to fly. Schwien says, “It’s important to have a goal in mind.”

In early February 2022, the ESA, which does not disclose information on individual applicants, released figures: 257 people applied to become a paraastronaut. 27 of them are now in the second phase of the application process and will undergo psychological and practical tests. In October 2022, it will be announced who will fly into space for ESA in the future. And who knows? Maybe in a few years there will be a para-astronaut in space and see the Earth from above.

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