BRUSSELS – In a rare opportunity for Europeans dreaming of relinquishing the mundane duties of life on Earth, the European Space Agency is hiring new astronauts for the first time in a decade, with more diversity as a goal.
Of the agency’s seven astronauts currently set to be sent on missions to the International Space Station, only one of them, 43-year-old Italian Samantha Cristoforetti, is a woman.
But the agency is now encouraging women to apply Two dozen new slots. It is also launching an effort to allow people with disabilities to go into space, a program known as the “Parastronet Sees Project”.
“You don’t have to be a superman or a superwoman,” said Lucy van der Tass, head of the recruitment agency. “We want to inspire more and more people to apply. But in the end, we are looking for very specific candidates. “
The goal is to select four to six astronauts, as well as about 20 reserves who can participate in youth missions. The first to recruit the disabled will join the reserve group and work with the agency to find out any modifications needed to move into the space.
Paradoxically, the difficulties of living in space for humans is one reason to encourage opportunities for people with disabilities, Ms. Cristoforetti said. “When it comes to space travel, everyone is handicapped,” she said. The solution is “just technology.”
To decide what type of space missions are handicapped, the European Space Agency, representing 22 European countries, consulted the International Paralympic Committee and came up with a system of categories: red (inconsistent), green ( Compatible) and yellow (compatible) with some technical modifications for the mission).
Right now, recruitment is open to people with leg ambulation, who are in the leg length or particularly low. But it is hoped that this program will be opened further.
“We feel strongly that if we don’t start now, it will never happen,” Ms. van der Tass said. “We are opening doors to a certain part of society, so they too can dream of becoming an astronaut.”
At this stage, there is no guarantee that the disabled astronaut will go to space.
The successful candidate “will not be an astronaut who also happens to have a disability”, said Dr. David Parker, the agency’s director of robotics and spaceflight programs. Ms van der Tass said recruiters would need the necessary motor skills to work and leave the space station independently in an emergency.
Given that life on the space station is like a continuous imprisonment, they also have to be able to see and hear. “Once everyone is locked together in a small space, the only way they can communicate with anyone else is through a screen” Ms. van der Naas said.
The astronaut selection process takes 18 months and includes psychological testing, medical screening, psychometric screening, and interviews.
Eventually, a lucky few will embark on missions to the International Space Station or, in the long term, to the Moon or Mars. But first, they will have to go through many years of arduous training, including learning skills to survive, how to maneuver a spacecraft, mastering Russian, and spending eight hours underwater weightlessness.
Applicants must have some minimum requirements, the agency said, including a master’s degree in natural science, medicine, engineering, mathematics or computer science, or a test-pilot license, and a minimum of three years of relevant work experience.
Applicants are required to demonstrate that they will be able to meet the various challenges of space travel. Daily life in a space station involves washing with a wet towel instead of rain, dry physical effort, dehydrated, packaged food, and constant weightlessness, which alters everyday activities such as sleeping and urinating.
Astronauts must also be prepared to participate in life science experiments. One of his major works is finding out what is the impact of space on the human body.
“Space is actually a fairly hostile environment for humans,” said Jennifer Nogo-Anh, the agency’s research and payload program coordinator. “There are high levels of radiation, the crew living autonomously in confined and confined spacecraft and exposed to zero gravity, leading to dramatic body adaptation.” Muscle loss, bone mass and strength, as well as loss of blood volume, are among the temporary physical consequences of prolonged stay in space.
“You need to be an all-rounder,” Ms. van der Tass said. “You don’t have to be the best at anything, but you need to be good at many things.”
So far, 90 percent of all astronauts have been male. The European Space Agency has sent only two women into space, Ms. Cristoforetti and Claudie Hagneri, who visited there twice in 1996 and 2001.
During the last recruitment round in 2008, only 16 percent of the 8,000 applicants were women.
Ms. van der Tass said that there are scientific benefits to hiring more women. “Space affects us differently, depending on age, gender and ethnicity,” she said. “The astronaut core is very small around the world, so we need to diversify it more and more.”
There was also a Barbie doll, followed by Ms. Cristoforetti, in 2019, to try to promote a scientific career among young women.
Ms. Cristoforetti said in an interview last year that being a woman only felt any kind of constraint once they had to put on a spacesuit shape for a man.
But her book, “Diary of an Apprentice Astronaut,” published in English this summer, admits that she experienced that “discrimination was quite subtle which was unclear.”
Ms. Cristoforetti has just started training for another mission, which usually takes about two years. When she leaves, she will leave her young daughter, who is now 4 years old.
Then he may face some of the challenges portrayed in the recent film “Proxima”. Who tells the story of a single mother, a French astronomer, with a young daughter preparing for a year-long mission in space.
Ms. Cristoforetti met with lead actress, Eva Green, and the film’s director, Alice Vinocore, who said she wanted the film to be “as close to reality as possible.”
“Cinema often does not show women as both mothers and superheroines,” said Ms. Vinocaur. “It is time for women to believe that you can be an astronaut and also a mother.”