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ESA promises to get back to would-be astronauts by the end of 2021

A space thing running late? Who would have thought it?

Delays are a way of life for the space community, and the European Space Agency (ESA) has flown past its latest deadline for replying to astronaut applicants.

In a post entitled "Astronaut applicants thanked as ESA contacts all candidates," Guillaume Weerts, head of space medicine, admitted that it actually hadn't.

The latest round of recruitment fetched 23,000 applications. Twenty per cent were swiftly rejected while the rest merited further examination. ESA promised to get through them all by the end of November.

It didn't quite manage the task. "Though we came very close to meeting this goal, there are still some applicants who have not heard from us," explained Weerts, who went on to reassure outstanding applicants that a yes or no would be forthcoming by the end of this month.

Testing for those who got the green light is already under way at a facility in Europe. This kicks off with psychological performance followed by interviews and medical testing. After that there will be recruitment interviews and the class announcement by the end of the year.

It's an exciting time to be an ESA astronaut, with missions to the Moon beckoning in the not-too-distant future, possibly accompanied by one of NASA's new recruits, of which 10 were announced last week. The US space agency had over 12,000 applicants for its 2021 astronaut class, some of whom could be launching into orbit before long, as well as heading into deep space aboard NASA's Orion capsule.

ESA last advertised for astronauts more than decade ago, and the agency expanded the pool of applicants thanks in part to its Parastronaut feasibility project, which aimed to find individuals that would otherwise qualify if not for a physical disability.

With mere weeks to go until everyone's supposed to get a response from ESA, many will still be hoping for some space-related festive good news in among the Christmas greetings. ®

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