Human World

ESA screens a record number of astronaut hopefuls

ESA: Seven people in blue suits stand in a line on a stage. One is speaking into a microphone.
ESA’s 2008 astronaut corps was presented at a press conference at the agency’s headquarters. Image via ESA.

ESA asks for patience as numbers exceed forecasts

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) latest call for astronaut applications has been hugely successful, exceeding even the most optimistic forecasts, the agency said on August 23, 2021. A record number of astronaut-hopefuls – more than 23,000 people – have applied since the application process opened online last March. Of this large number of applicants, only 4 to 6 people will be chosen as staff astronauts, while up to 20 people will be kept as “reserves.”

The selected recruits will join ESA’s current astronaut corps, consisting of seven active members. They are Timothy Peake (U.K.), Andreas Mogensen (Denmark), Thomas Pesquet (France), Alexander Gerst and Matthias Maurer (Germany), and Samantha Cristoforetti and Luca Parmitano (Italy). The new astronauts will first fly to the International Space Station, but might eventually travel as far as the moon on one of the planned missions with NASA.

ESA said it will take time to work through its 23,000 astronaut applications. And ESA has requested patience from applicants as the process unfolds. Head of the team leading the astronaut selection Guillaume Weerts explained in ESA’s statement:

At ESA, we firmly believe that every application should receive the attention it deserves. With the considerable number of applicants, it simply takes more time than initially foreseen.

Before November 2021

Antonella Costa, a human resources partner of ESA, added:

Upon completion of the pre-screening stage, we found some applications did not fulfill the requirements stated in the applicable documentation, and these applicants were notified immediately. However, more than 80% of all remaining, eligible applications are still under review.

The next step in the screening process for candidates is a full day of psychological testing at an astronaut facility in Europe. That testing has already started and will last until the end of this year, with some delays imposed by the large number of applicants and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, ESA has stated that all applicants should hear from the agency by November at the latest under the revised processing timeline. Costa said:

If you have not yet been invited, it does not necessarily mean that your application is not being considered. We ask you for your patience as we process applications and issue these invitations … We fully understand how important these applications are to candidates, and we are working to let everyone who applied know the outcome of their application as soon as possible.

An astronaut with long hair floating in the air on board the ISS holds a device to her eye.
NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg uses a fundoscope to image her eye while in orbit. Image via NASA.

Record diversity

ESA has issued an astronaut recruitment only three times before. This year’s pool brought in nearly three times as many applicants as the most recent round back in 2008. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, for such a rare opportunity to generate so much interest. One note: 5,419 female candidates applied this time in contrast to 1,287 in 2008. ESA has said it’s also recruiting one astronaut among the 257 applicants with disabilities.

Bottom line: Astronaut hopefuls are being asked for their patience as the European Space Agency (ESA) processes over 23,000 applications to its astronaut recruitment: a number that far exceeds the agency’s most optimistic forecasts.


August 24, 2021
Human World

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