Hunt is on for Europe’s newest astronauts

15 May 2008

A major recruitment drive is now on for applicants hoping to take part in the human spaceflight missions of the 21st century.

In Dublin yesterday was Leo Hennessy, special advisor the European Space Agency’s (ESA) scientific directorate, who was aiming to encourage budding Irish astronauts to strive for the prestigious task.

“We’re looking at a new phase in the European astronaut corps and we’re hoping to recruit four astronauts to join the existing corps of 16. We’re expecting over 20,000 people to apply,” said Hennessy.

He explained that ideal candidates would have degrees in the sciences – particularly life sciences or physics and chemistry – or be experienced engineers. “Aviation experience would be a good asset. We’re also looking out for people with good intelligence, memory, reasoning, concentration and manual dexterity.”

Hennessy, who joined the ESA in 1987 after a career with ANCO (the precursor to FÁS), said the preferred age range would be between 27 and 37 years of age.

“The ESA is moving to exploration and is investing in projects that will eventually lead towards manned space flights to Mars.”

According to Hennessy, potential candidates will have to undergo a battery of psychological tests ranging from personality to aptitude and skills, to tests that will examine how applicants can work under pressure as part of a team in a confined environment.

“We want to see if they’re capable of analysing information quickly and in high-pressure situations to be sure their reactions wouldn’t be nasty, aggressive or impatient.”

After surviving the psychological tests, the candidates would then move on to high-level medical tests similar to what pilots must undergo. “Whoever is left will then go before a board interview process.”

Hennessy said there’s no reason why an Irish citizen should not form part of the new astronaut corps. “From my own experience, Ireland provides an excellent standard of education. Also, one of the requirements will be speaking fluent English. Another bonus is that Irish people have never been scared of competition.

“I wouldn’t have gotten the job in the ESA if I didn’t believe in myself. I have to say my time with ANCO prepared me well for it.

“The competition will be down to between four and eight individuals – it will be tough!”

By John Kennedy