For the first time in more than a decade, the European Space Agency (ESA) is looking for new astronauts. The competition is open to all member states of the organization, including Portugal. The application deadline is between March 31st and May 28th, 2021, and the selection process is expected to be completed in October 2022. This year registrations will also be opened for the first astronaut with some physical disability. Details of these trials were announced on Tuesday.
You can find all information about the selection process here. In short, the requirements for an astronaut application are: to be a citizen of an ESA Member State or Associated Country; have a master’s degree (or higher) in science, engineering, mathematics or computer science; or relevant three years of postgraduate work experience. You are also asked to be fluent in English. Have strong motivation and ability to deal with irregular work schedules, frequent travel, and long absences from home, family, and normal social life. It also shows that one needs to be flexible about the workplace, stay calm under pressure, or be willing to participate in life science experiences.
ESA warns against only considering applications submitted on the ESA Career website between March 31 and May 28. Then a six-step selection process begins. First, there is a screening (with several rounds) based on the documents sent and a questionnaire that was filled out in the application. This is followed by cognitive, technical, motor coordination and personality tests. Then there are practical tests, psychometric tests or individual and group exercises. Then the medical selection is made. Finally, there are two rounds of interviews: the first tests technical and behavioral skills, and the second (and final phase of the process) allows candidates to be interviewed by the Director General of ESA.
ESA plans to recruit between four and six new career astronauts, which means they will be permanent ESA astronauts and undertake long and more complex missions. At one of the conferences this Tuesday on this process, Frank De Winne, in charge of the European Astronaut Center, stated that professional astronauts would take part in long-term missions on the International Space Station (ISS). In the future, they are expected to take part in missions to Gateway – a station to be put into orbit the moon and the base for assisting robots and astronauts in exploring our natural satellite – as well as on the surface of the moon.
Reserve astronauts will also be recruited who are not part of ESA’s permanent team but may be selected for specific projects or have the opportunity to become career astronauts in the future. “This is something completely new,” said David Parker, Director of Human and Robotics Exploration at ESA at the conference.
Parastronaut and women
At the same time, ESA is starting a pilot project to select a parastronaut, the first astronaut with a physical disability. This project will make it possible to pursue an astronaut career “in a part of society that was previously excluded from space travel,” the space agency had already announced. “It’s the first time in history [que isto acontece]Said Jan Wörner, Director General of ESA. Here ESA is looking for people who are professionally, technically, cognitively and psychologically qualified as astronauts, but have a physical disability – which they prevented before they were astronauts.
In a statement, ESA agreed to invest in the necessary adaptations in terms of special equipment so that these people can travel into space and be part of a space mission. With regard to the number of people to be selected under these conditions, it is stated that “a flight opportunity will be opened up for one or more people”. David Parker said there are many questions about whether this process will take place, but that ESA will be working with experts and researching medical technologies.
ESA has only applied for astronauts three times since 1978. The last time ESA looked for new astronauts (and the first time Portugal was able to participate) was in 2008. The following were selected in 2009: Samantha Cristoforetti from Italy; Alexander Gerst from Germany; Andreas Mogensen from Denmark; Luca Parmitano from Italy; Timothy Peake from Great Britain; and Thomas Pesquet from France.
And why is ESA now looking for new astronauts? This was one of the questions Jan Wörner was asked at the conference. “We need new astronauts to ensure continuation,” he replied. “It’s time to start looking for new astronauts and I think we’ll find the best.” Jan Wörner pointed out that diversity is well established at ESA and that this includes not only nationalities but also different genres or orientations. And he started a challenge: “We want to encourage women to apply.”