European Space Agency whittles wannabe astronauts down from 23,000 to 1,391

Could there be a South Korean TV show somewhere in this?

The European Space Agency (ESA) has completed stage one of its latest astronaut selection process, with 1,362 astronaut and 29 parastronaut applicants making the cut.

The group, which started as 23,000 wannabes, will now be invited to participate in a battery of psychological, performance, and personality tests followed by psychological interviews and medical testing for the ones that make it that far.

In December, ESA admitted it was still in the process of contacting applicants. But a delay is something that any would-be spacefarer will have to get used to.

Recruitment interviews will follow before the new class of astronauts and reserves are unveiled in Autumn 2022.

The gender mix of the 1,362 astronauts is 61 per cent male applicants and 39 per cent female. The remaining 29 parastronauts consist of 27.6 per cent female applicants and 72.4 per cent male.

The announcement comes days after the 16 January anniversary of NASA's 1978 selection (TFNG – Thirty-Five New Guys, or The F***ing New Guys, according to a chapter title in astronaut Mike Mullane's book, Riding Rockets). NASA's selection back then included Sally Ride, who would go on to become the first American woman in space.

ESA hopes to lead by example in opening up applications to would-be astronauts with a physical disability. This could be a lower limb deficiency, a leg length difference or person under 130cm in height.

NASA, on the other hand, has a few problems with the management of its astronaut corps. A report [PDF] by its watchdog concluded that the US space agency might struggle to meet the needs of the upcoming Artemis missions.

Furthermore, data limitations will "restrict NASA's ability to fully measure its progress towards meeting broader diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility goals," according to the report, "a significant issue given that astronauts are among the most publicly visible employees at the Agency."

NASA announced its 2021 astronaut candidate class, consisting of 10 candidates, in December 2021.

Still, ESA is to be commended on its parastronaut programme. While there is no guarantee of a flight, even for those that make it through the later stages of the selection process, increasing the pool astronauts can be selected from can only be a good thing. ®

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