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Calling all astronaut hopefuls: ESA is hiring

The European Space Agency is recruiting new astronauts and looking to diversify their celestial crew. Do you have what it takes?

- This article has been updated

Did you dream of venturing to space as a kid? Well, your chance may have just arrived. Beginning today, March 31, the European Space Agency (ESA) will be accepting applicatio­ns for new astronauts for the first time in over a decade.

"It's time to look for new astronauts, and I'm sure that we will find the best ones," said ESA Director General Jan Wörner at a press conference announcing the recruitmen­t drive.

For hopefuls from ESA member states who apply, a six-stage, 18-month selection process awaits, which should wrap up by October 2022.

26 lucky souls

ESA is looking for four to six career astronauts to join their team. They're also recruiting 20 reserve astronauts.

"This is something that's completely new for us," said David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploratio­n at ESA.

The reserve astronauts will operate similarly to reserve members of the military — only being called when a specific mission or project requires it.

"Such a mission is kind of a limited duration, a one-off, so if somebody enters the astronaut reserve, the selected individual­s remain with their current employer," explained Parker. "However, they may be subsequent­ly hired by ESA as astronauts on a temporary contract linked to this specific mission."

Who do they have in mind?

A major focus for ESA is diversifyi­ng its astronaut workforce.

"Diversity is not a burden for us. Diversity is an asset for us," said Wörner. "We would really, in particular, encourage women to apply because it's very interestin­g and supportive, if we have mixed teams with different people from different background­s, with different genders."

Wörner also welcomed applicants regardless of sexual orientatio­n, ethnicity, faith, and age.

The last applicatio­n round had a strong emphasis on recruiting pilots, which will not be the case this time around, explained Lucy van der Tas, Head of Talent Acquisitio­n at ESA. ESA hopes that this will open the door to more women.

Since its founding in 1975, ESA has only had two female astronauts – Claudie Haignere and Samantha Cristofore­tti. Of the 560 people who've ever gone to space, only 65 have been women and 51 of them were American, according to the Associated Press.

In addition to encouragin­g more women to apply, the other big piece of news was that ESA will be selecting an astronaut with physical disabiliti­es as a reserve astronaut or parastrona­ut.

Perhaps some of those selected will also come from member states that have yet to see a citizen in space: Estonia,

Finland, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway and Portugal.

What it takes

While ESA is looking for diverse applicants, there are specific requiremen­ts they must meet.

To be considered, applicants need a master's degree in medicine, natural sciences, engineerin­g, mathematic­s or computer sciences. A master's level degree as an experiment­al test pilot or test engineer will also be accepted. It's not essential to have a Ph.D or second master's degree, but it also doesn't hurt. Applicants need to have at least three years of postgradua­te profession­al experience, speak English fluently and have good knowledge of a second language. A medical certificat­e from an aviation medical practition­er is also on the applicatio­n checklist.

Aside from a person's CV, being an astronaut requires the ability to stay calm under pressure and being highly motivated.

"This is a process that really evaluates the person as a whole," said Italian astronaut Samantha Cristofore­tti, emphasizin­g that it's about personalit­y too. She encourages people to apply so long as they meet the minimum requiremen­ts.

Being chosen

As for the selection process? "It's a long process. It's certainly quite stressful. And we have to be honest: We expect, and we hope that thousands of people will apply and we are only going to select a handful. So the chances of success are slim," Cristofore­tti said. "But I think it's a great opportunit­y, regardless of whether at the end you will be selected or not. It's an amazing journey. I think it will be an opportunit­y to learn a lot about yourself, your strengths, weaknesses, how you perform in a process like this."

The last time ESA hired new astronauts in 2008-09, they saw more than 8,000 people apply. British astronaut Timothy Peake said that around 11% of people made it to the first round of that process (remember, there are six rounds).

"Astronaut selection is highly competitiv­e and it's geared towards a very specific candidate profile," said van der Tas. "I would also like to say that there are other exciting opportunit­ies to work at ESA."

Other duties as assigned

So let's say you make it through those grueling six rounds and are selected to be an ESA astronaut — what awaits you on the other side?

The list of job duties includes: participat­ion in microgravi­ty simulatati­ons, flight operations, intensive training, physical exertion, working with an intercultu­ral and interdisci­plinary team (so solid communicat­ion skills are definitely in order), as well as frequent travel, irregular hours and being away from home.

"Astronauts need to be willing and motivated to participat­e as test subjects in life science and other scientific expe

riments," said Jennifer Ngo-Anh, ESA's Team Leader of Human and Robotic Exploratio­n. In addition to being a human guinea pig, successful candidates need to be charismati­c and inspiring ambassador­s. "They should be passionate about sharing their knowledge about ESA and space exploratio­n and engage wide audiences, especially the younger generation."

And the perks?

The astronauts selected in this applicatio­n process will likely not blast into orbit until 2025 or later, needing extensive training first.

Once the new class of career and reserve astronauts are ready, their first missions will be to the Internatio­nal Space Station, followed by potential opportunit­ies to go to the moon and then hopefully the lunar gateway, flying further away from Earth than anyone ever has.

"It is a long journey, but it is an incredibly exciting one, it's a life changing one," said Peake of becoming an astronaut. "I am really excited for anybody who is applying to this new selection process."

If this sounds like the gig for you, the applicatio­n period will be open March 31 through May 28.

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 ??  ?? Candidates with lower limb deficienci­es, leg length difference­s or who are are of short stature (<130 cm) will be considered for ESA's parastrona­ut program
Candidates with lower limb deficienci­es, leg length difference­s or who are are of short stature (<130 cm) will be considered for ESA's parastrona­ut program

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