The European Space Agency, of which Portugal is a part, launched, this Tuesday, a new campaign to recruit astronauts, which aims to increase the presence of women in its ranks, also opening up an experimental vacancy for a person with physical disabilities.
The application process will be open from March 31 to May 28, but the Paris-based organization has already revealed some details of the campaign classified as historic, since so far there have only been three selection processes, the last of which in 2008.
Currently, seven people make up the European contingent of astronauts, six men and one woman – from Denmark, Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom – although Briton Tim Peake has been on leave since October 2019.
“We need more to ensure continuity and have a smooth transfer of knowledge from the old to the new,” said Jan Worner, director general of the European Space Agency (ESA), in a videoconference.
The agency wants hire “between four and six people” to join your permanent team of astronauts and up to 20 who will be part of the reservation to participate in flights or specific projects.
Within this reserve, and within the scope of the Parastronaut Feasibility Project, you will select a person with a physical disability, who in the future should also be able to integrate space missions.
The requirements are high: “We have to be honest, we expect thousands of people to appear. The chances of success are low“, Admitted the Italian Samantha Cristoforetti, current ESA astronaut, in the same virtual meeting.
Applicants, coming from one of the 22 ESA member countries or an associated state, must have completed a master’s degree or equivalent in mathematics, engineering, computer science or medicine, among other sectors, and have three years of professional experience, in addition to knowing English and a second language.
“All applications from qualified applicants are welcome, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, beliefs, age and other characteristics,” added the space organization.
The work, as recognized by the participants, is unusual, although the first step still requires the submission of a resume, a letter of motivation or an aeronautical medical certificate.
“Space is a hostile environment. You have to live in a small place, in conditions of zero gravity and dramatic adaptation and be prepared to be away from family and friends, even when you are not on a mission ”, said the coordinator of ESA’s Research and Useful Loads Program, Jennifer Ngo-Anh.
The Parastronauta program also begins a new era, in which the conditions and technologies that guarantee safe missions for people with disabilities are also studied and in cooperation with other ESA commercial and international partners.
“Right now, we’re at zero. The door is closed to people with disabilities. With this pilot project we have the ambition to open it and take a step, from zero to one ”, emphasized the agency.
Among the possible candidates are people with a disability in the lower limbs, a pronounced difference in the height of the legs or a reduced stature, less than 1.3 meters.
The new contingent will be announced in October 2022 and its training will be divided into three stages, with a minimum duration of three years, the first of which will take place at the headquarters of European astronauts in the German city of Cologne.
Although they work with astronauts now on active duty and their first missions target the International Space Station, Mars and the Moon are also part of the projects they can get involved in the future.
And your work will not be just scientific: “They are the most visible ambassadors of the European space program. They must have a passion for sharing their knowledge before, during and after a mission ”, concluded the Research Program coordinator.