Europe begins hunt for its next astronauts – POLITICO

The European Space Agency is looking for its next generation of space explorers, and it’s casting the net wider than ever before.

The Paris-based agency will next month start the process of hiring astronauts for the first time in more than a decade and is hoping to attract applications from a much broader range of people than fighter pilots and elite aviators alone.

The plan, unveiled by ESA officials Tuesday, is to recruit between four and six full-time astronauts, with up to 20 more accepted as reserves that could be called up.

Applicants should have a master’s degree in the sciences, engineering or medicine, or hold a degree as an experimental test pilot. They should have at least three years of postgraduate experience and speak a second language as well as fluent English, said Lucy van der Tas, head of talent acquisition at ESA.

The application period runs from March 31 to May 28, and will be followed by a six-stage selection process lasting through to October 2022.

The first round will require a CV, motivation letter and an aviation medical certificate (though a pilot license isn’t mandatory). Applicants should be highly motivated and comfortable with irregular working hours and long absences away from home, ESA says.

“The first missions will be to the International Space Station, that is the core,” said Frank De Winne, a former Belgian astronaut who now runs ESA’s special training center in Cologne. “But it will not stop there … Eventually we want to work to get our astronauts to the moon.”

ESA is planning missions this decade to Gateway, a new space station that will orbit the moon, he said.

The agency is encouraging women to apply as part of efforts to boost gender equality. It is also launching a so-called Parastronaut Feasibility Project to look at sending a disabled person into space.

“We are looking for an individual who is psychologically, cognitively, technically and professionally qualified to be an astronaut but has certain classes of physical limitation that would normally prevent them from being selected,” said David Parker, ESA’s director for technology, science and exploration.

“Right now we are at step zero, the door is closed. We want to change that,” he said.

The cadets will work alongside ESA’s class of 2009, which includes the likes of Thomas Pesquet, Tim Peake and Samantha Cristoforetti, the only woman in the current cohort.

They were plucked from 8,413 applications more than a decade ago, with their astronaut corps including two Italians, two Germans, one Frenchman, a Brit and a Dane — each of which has taken a trip to the International Space Station.

Applicants this time around are welcome from any of ESA’s 22 member countries or associate member countries.

Cristoforetti’s training for space took her on 10-day deep-sea dives and treks into the wilderness in Alaska. She’s encouraging everyone to consider an application. “Occasionally you get to ride a rocket to work,” she said. “Please go for it … you might as well try, why not.”

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