Europe Tries to Diversify Their Astronauts

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Linnea Fry, Writer

After over a decade, the European Space Agency is finally opening to new astronaut recruits, and with a new goal of trying to diversify their missions. Applying to become an ESA astronaut is an exciting and rare opportunity, since they have only recruited new astronauts three times since 1978.

 

Of the seven astronauts from the agency currently ready to be sent on missions to the International Space Station, only one of them, Italian Samantha Cristoforetti, is a woman. Not only is the agency trying to make the missions more gender equal, they are also trying to open up a new program for people with disabilities called the “Parastronaut Feasibility Project.”. The program’s requirements for academics and psychological standards remain the same, however it is now open to people with lower limb deficiencies, and other related disabilities. According to the ESA, the program aims at “offering professional spaceflight opportunities to a wider pool of talents.”.

 

Becoming an astronaut is no easy feat. Due to the importance of the role to the ESA, Europe, and the world, they expect a high calibre of applicants for the 2021-22 selection. The role of an astronaut is continually evolving. As they travel beyond the International Space Station, and go forward to the Moon, the astronauts must be ready to adapt to new challenges in exploration far away from home. Their team is made up of many different people from a range of cultural, personal and professional backgrounds. The agency believes that rather than excelling in any one area, it is most important for astronauts to be well-rounded team players who demonstrate competence across a wide range of tasks and disciplines.

“We feel strongly that if we don’t start now, it will never happen,” said Lucy Van der Tas, head of recruitment for the agency, “We are opening the door to a certain part of the society, so they too can dream of becoming an astronaut.”.

A successful candidate will not be “a space tourist who happens also to have a disability,” said Dr. David Parker, the agency’s director of the robotics and spaceflight program. Ms. van der Tas added that recruits would need the necessary motor skills to work and leave the space station independently in an emergency.

While they don’t expect the program to be up and running immediately, they absolutely can’t wait to incorporate diversity into their organization.