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European Space Agency asks for patience as it sifts through over 23,000 astronaut applications

The European Space Agency (ESA) has asked for patience as it wades through more than 23,000 astronaut applications, including 1,979 from the UK.

ESA says the number of applicants far exceeded even its most optimistic forecasts, describing it as a positive indication of the level of interest in space activities. 

The agency is looking for six full time astronauts and up to 20 reservists that will travel to the International Space Station (ISS) and one day on to the NASA Lunar Gateway, in orbit around the moon.

It had hoped to begin moving candidates on to the next stage by this point, but that has slipped until November due to the sheer volume of applicants.

The final six will be announced by the end of 2022, early 2023, at which point they will begin their training with ESA for a future trip to the ISS or the moon. 

The European Space Agency (ESA) has asked for patients as it wades through more than 23,000 astronaut applications, including 1,979 from the UK 

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet is currently on the ISS, becoming the first European to fly to the station on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet is currently on the ISS, becoming the first European to fly to the station on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule

Astronaut criteria  

To be eligible to file an application, an individual must: 

  • have  a master’s degree (or higher) in Natural Sciences, Medicine, Engineering, Mathematics or Computer Sciences 
  • OR be qualified as an experimental test pilot
  • be fluent  in English
  • Good knowledge of a second language 
  • be calm under pressure and be willing to participate in life science experiments
  • Flexible with regards to place of work 

Head of space medicine for the European Space Agency, Guillaume Weerts, says it will take some time to work through all of the applications.

‘At ESA, we firmly believe that every application should receive the attention it deserves. With the considerable number of applicants, it simply takes more time than initially foreseen,’ he explained.

ESA has completed the initial ‘pre-screening stage’ where it found 20 per cent of the candidates didn’t fulfil the requirements and have already been told.

However, the remaining 80 per cent, or about 17,000 people are fully eligible for the role, and so their applications are ‘still under review’ by ESA. 

The next step for successful candidates is an invitation to a day of testing at a facility in Europe, which kicks off an 18 month process of gradually reducing the list.

This has already started, but due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, candidates are being invited on a gradual process, rather than as a large group. 

‘If you have not yet been invited, it does not necessarily mean that your application is not being considered,’ explained Antonella Costa, from ESA. 

‘We really want to thank everyone who did put themselves forward. We fully understand how important these applications are to candidates.

France had the highest number of applications, at 7,137 and a quarter of all applicants were women, up from 15 per cent during the last round in 2008. The brighter the colour in this graphic the more applications from that country

France had the highest number of applications, at 7,137 and a quarter of all applicants were women, up from 15 per cent during the last round in 2008. The brighter the colour in this graphic the more applications from that country

‘And we are working to let everyone who applied know the outcome of their application as soon as possible.’

Under the revised processing timeline, it is expected that all candidates will be notified of the outcome of their application by the end of November 2021. 

Applications to become an astronaut closed on June 18 and the total number applying, and able to provide a medical certificate, was up from 8,413 in 2008.  

The 2021 astronaut selection is the first time ESA has issued a vacancy for an astronaut with a physical disability and 200 applied.

If one of the British candidates is successful they will be the third British astronaut after Helen Sharman and Tim Peake - who was the first British ESA-astronaut

If one of the British candidates is successful they will be the third British astronaut after Helen Sharman and Tim Peake – who was the first British ESA-astronaut

Candidates will go through a rigorous selection process including screening, psychological testing, medical testing and interviews

Candidates will go through a rigorous selection process including screening, psychological testing, medical testing and interviews

PARASTRONAUT: ESA SEARCHING FOR DIFFERENTLY ABLED CANDIDATE 

The European Space Agency is looking for a parastronaut that could travel to the ISS in the future.

The person selected will join the reserve crew while ESA work with partners to find a safe way to travel. 

Individuals with missing feet or lower legs, either from amputation or birth defects, are eligible, as too are people who are shorter than 130 cm (4ft 3in). 

Tim Peake says he ‘wouldn’t have any reservations travelling to space with someone with disabilities’.

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti said we ‘didn’t evolve to be in space’.

She said we’re ‘all disabled in space’ and it is just a case of perfecting the technology to take candidates who would otherwise be selected to be an astronaut if it were not for a disability. 

It is anticipated that the successful candidate will work with ESA to determine the adaptations required for such an astronaut to serve as a professional crew member on a future space mission, working on scientific research on an equal footing.

Applications have been received from all Member and Associate Member states including 80 from Lithuania who only joined ESA early in 2021. 

France had the highest number of applications, at 7,137 and a quarter of all applicants were women, up from 15 per cent during the last round in 2008. 

If one of the British candidates is successful they will be the third British astronaut after Helen Sharman and Tim Peake – who was the first British ESA-astronaut. 

Peake is expected to return to the ISS in the coming years, so the successful candidates could be sent to the station at the same time.  

ESA’s astronaut selection process consists of six key stages.

The first stage involves more detailed screening of the thousands of applicants, during which their applications will be assessed on the basis of all documents submitted, the application form and the screening questionnaire completed as part of the application process. 

Candidates will be notified at the end of each stage as to whether their application has been successful in progressing to the next step. However, patience is a virtue because the entire selection process will take one and a half years. 

ESA says the number of applicants far exceeded even its most optimistic forecasts, describing it as a positive indication of the level of interest in space activities

ESA says the number of applicants far exceeded even its most optimistic forecasts, describing it as a positive indication of the level of interest in space activities 

ESA has purchased a number of flights to the upcoming NASA Lunar Gateway (artist impression) - a project it has partnered on with NASA, JAXA and CSA

ESA has purchased a number of flights to the upcoming NASA Lunar Gateway (artist impression) – a project it has partnered on with NASA, JAXA and CSA

Applicants are only eligible if they are either qualified as an experimental test pilot or hold a master’s degree or higher in Natural Sciences, Medicine, Engineering, Mathematics or Computer Sciences.

Fluency in English is essential, as too is the ability to be calm under pressure and a willingness to participate in life science experiments. 

A number of European Space Agency astronauts have already been to the ISS and the new cohort will also travel to a new space station around the Moon within the decade

A number of European Space Agency astronauts have already been to the ISS and the new cohort will also travel to a new space station around the Moon within the decade

The agency is looking for six full time astronauts and up to 20 reservists that will travel to the International Space Station (ISS) and one day on to the NASA Lunar Gateway, in orbit around the moon

The agency is looking for six full time astronauts and up to 20 reservists that will travel to the International Space Station (ISS) and one day on to the NASA Lunar Gateway, in orbit around the moon

LIST OF APPLICANTS TO BE AN ESA ASTRONAUT BY COUNTRY  
Country Male Female Total
Austria 349 115 464
Belgium 785 234 1019
Czech Republic 165 37 202
Denmark 110 36 146
Estonia 35 22 57
Finland 248 59 307
France 5475 1662 7137
Germany 2663 1037 3700
Greece 220 60 280
Hungary 116 34 150
Ireland 194 76 270
Italy 1507 353 1860
Latvia 60 21 81
Lithuania 62 18 80
Luxumberg 53 12 65
Netherlands 698 300 998
Norway 258 55 313
Poland 421 128 549
Portugal 256 61 317
Romania 199 56 255
Slovenia 49 13 62
Spain 1045 299 1344
Sweden 232 52 284
Switzerland 551 119 670
UK 1419 560 1979
Total 17170 5419 22589

ESA has secured three astronaut trips to the Lunar Gateway due to be built in orbit around the moon, and hopes to be able to send Europeans to the surface of our natural satellite in the future. 

‘Astronauts will fly further away from Earth than anybody has ever been’ when they go to the Gateway as it will be further from Earth than the Moon, says Frank De Winne from the ESA astronaut training centre.

‘The first five to ten years will see astronauts fly to the ISS, but after that there will be opportunities to fly to the Moon and further than the Moon.’

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