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Wide range of applications for ESA’s astronaut selection

Aspiring astronauts from across Europe are awaiting the next step in ESA’s astronaut selection, following the 18 June closure of the Agency’s first application period in 11 years.

André Kuipers onboard the ISS with a model of the European Robotic Arm during his first space mission, 'Delta', in 2004.

Though figures are not yet final, initial numbers indicate more than 22,000 people submitted an application to ESA’s astronaut vacancy notices. During ESA’s last call for astronauts in 2008, the number of applicants who provided a medical certificate and finalised their online application form was 8413.

Through this recruitment round, more than 200 applied for the newly-established astronaut (with a physical disability) vacancy, and around 5,400/24 percent of all astronaut applicants identify as female – in 2008, this figure was 15.5 percent.

The 2021 astronaut selection is the first time ESA has issued a vacancy for an astronaut with a physical disability. It is anticipated that the successful candidate will work with ESA to determine the adaptations required for such an astronaut to serve as a professional crew member on a future space mission.

Applications have been received from all Member and Associate Member states. This includes Lithuania, whose citizens recently became eligible for selection because of the country’s new status as an ESA Associate Member.

Next steps for selection

From the closure of the vacancy notices on 18 June 2021 to the worldwide announcement of selected astronauts in late 2022, ESA’s astronaut selection process consists of six key stages.

The first of these stages is screening. During this phase, applications will be assessed on the basis of all documents submitted, the application form and the screening questionnaire completed as part of the application process. Applications for the astronaut (with a physical disability) position will also undergo medical screening.

Candidates will be notified at the end of each stage as to whether their application has been successful in progressing to the next step. However, patience is a virtue because the entire selection process will take one and a half years.

A positive challenge

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher says the Agency sought to attract a wide range of applicants through its recruitment campaign and looks forward to the challenge of selecting Europe’s best-suited candidates.

“The establishment of an astronaut reserve, alongside the selection of four staff astronauts and an astronaut with a physical disability, provides more opportunities for our applicants than ever before. However, as can be seen from initial numbers, there is still huge competition for these coveted roles in space,” he says.

“I would like to thank all of you who applied for the time and effort you have already put into your astronaut application. We appreciate your patience as our team works to ensure a fair and thorough process, and remind anyone with an interest in space that being an astronaut is not the only opportunity available at ESA. In the coming years we will be seeking a wide range of space professionals and I encourage you to view these opportunities on the ESA Careers website.”

ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker reiterates these comments and says: “It is pleasing to see an increase in the gender distribution of applicants to this astronaut selection, but the numbers also show there is more to be done to achieve gender balance in the space sector.

“Representing all parts of our society is a concern that we take very seriously. I’m looking forward to seeing which of these applicants will join our existing astronaut corps and help contribute to that representation both on Earth and in space.”

Final figures on the number and geographical spread of applications will be released as soon as these are available.