22 Irish applicants enter next phase of ESA astronaut recruitment

11 Feb 2022

Image: © dimazel/Stock.adobe.com

The candidates will enter the next stage of the astronaut recruitment process, with the successful group expected to be announced in autumn.

22 Irish applicants – nine women and 13 men – have been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) to enter the next stage of its astronaut selection process.

In total, 530 women and 831 men from across the EU were selected by the ESA, with at least three candidates chosen from each country. These applicants will now move on to phase two of ESA’s astronaut selection, which involves a full day of psychological performance testing at a facility in Europe.

The ESA received 22,523 valid astronaut applications for its recruitment drive, first announced last year. It is the first time in more than a decade that the ESA has looked for new astronauts.

The largest number of applications came from France, with more than 7,000 people applying. This was followed by Germany with 3,695 and the UK with 2,000. There were 276 applications from Ireland.

David Parker, ESA director of human and robotic exploration, previously spoke about the agency’s plans for more diverse and inclusive space missions. For the first time in its history, the ESA is exploring how to bring people with physical disabilities into space in a new ‘parastronaut’ programme. This vacancy attracted 257 applications, with 27 candidates entering the second phase.

Candidates who are successful at stage two will then take a series of psychological interviews and group tests, before moving on to medical testing. Those who successfully pass each of these selection stages will be invited to recruitment interviews.

At least four, but potentially as many as six, career astronauts will be recruited in this call. As part of a new initiative, reserve astronauts will also be taken on, which will occupy a more flexible position. They won’t be ESA staff, but will be linked to a specific flight or mission and may be hired by the ESA for a temporary four-year contract. The ESA will be looking for up to 20 reserve astronauts.

The ESA’s new batch of astronauts and reserve astronauts is expected to be announced this autumn.

While the current ESA focus is on the International Space Station and returning to the moon, future missions will involve Mars and the Gateway, which is a small space station that will orbit the moon.

2022 is set to be an exciting and fruitful year for space exploration overall, with a number of missions planned by global space agencies. This September, the ESA is due to launch the next part of its ExoMars mission in collaboration with Roscosmos. The first part of the mission, ExoMars 2016, sent a Trace Gas Orbiter to orbit around Mars in late 2016.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic