ESA presents seventeen new astronauts, including the first 'parastronaut'

The European Space Agency (ESA) announced on Wednesday which European candidates have been selected for the new batch of astronauts. It concerns seventeen men and women from Belgium, Italy and Switzerland, among others. Almost half of the selected astronauts are women. The last time the ESA chose a new batch of astronauts was in 2008, when there was only one woman among the chosen candidates. No Dutch people have been selected.

More than 22,000 people had applied for the vacancy for ESA astronauts by 2021. Five people will be employed full-time by the ESA. In addition, eleven people have been appointed reserve astronauts, they can be called up for future missions but do not have to give up their work in the meantime. Finally, the first parastronaut was chosen: an astronaut with a physical disability. Selecting an astronaut with a physical disability is part of a new ESA project to show “more inclusiveness and a fair representation of society” in space travel.

Parastronauts must meet the same educational and psychological requirements as non-physical candidates. Candidates who are shorter than 1.30 meters, have a foot or leg defect, have a large leg length difference or are missing a (lower) leg were allowed to apply as a parastronaut. Ultimately, the British paralympic John McFall selected as parastronaut. He lost his right leg at the age of nineteen after a motorcycle accident.

Selection procedure

Most applications for the ESA Class of 2022 came from France: 7,087 people responded to the vacancy there. After that, most candidates came from Germany (3,695) and the United Kingdom (2,000). Estonia had the fewest space enthusiasts: only 57 people (22 women and 35 men) applied. 257 people responded to the vacancy for an astronaut with a physical disability. Of the Dutch registrations, 686 were male and 296 female.

Of the thousands of applicants, 1,361 candidates (530 women and 831 men) made it to the second round. They were subjected to a series of interrogations and tests that tested their psychological, physical and social skills. In the last few rounds, candidates spent months participating in a NASA-sponsored mission in Hawaii and in a test round at the German space agency DLR. The entire selection procedure took about a year.

16.9 billion released

The announcement of the new cohort of astronauts took place in Paris, where the 22 member states had reached a budget agreement for the space agency after two days of consultation. ESA director Josef Aschbacher announced during the presentation that 16.9 billion euros will be released for the next three years. The amount will be used to finance future space activities such as rocket launches, satellites and European space research. Ashbacher say that he is “very impressed with this amount despite the high inflation”.

The European Space Agency was founded in 1975 and is a collaboration of 22 Member States: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain , the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Switzerland. ESA is a participant in NASA’s Artemis program with the aim of bringing astronauts to the moon this decade, including Europeans.

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