European Space Agency begins search for first 'parastronaut' in recruitment drive
Updated 02:30, 17-Feb-2021
Tim Hanlon


Would you be unruffled by heading into the unknown, living without gravity and tackling an emergency in space? Then maybe you should apply to be a European Space Agency  (ESA) astronaut?

For the first time in 11 years, the ESA is on a recruitment drive and the emphasis this time is on being more open and diversified. Women are being encouraged to apply, as are people with disabilities.

"Representing all parts of our society is a concern that we take very seriously," said David Parker, ESA director of Human and Robotic Exploration. 

"Diversity at ESA should not only address the origin, age, background or gender of our astronauts, but also perhaps physical disabilities. To make this dream a reality, alongside the astronaut recruitment, I am launching the Parastronaut Feasibility Project – an innovation whose time has come."



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The chance to escape a more mundane world and the pandemic crisis might sound appealing but what qualities do you need to be an astronaut and how hard is it?

There are no astronaut schools and so recruitment is based on more general criteria focusing on ability and personality. Very few people will be selected by the ESA and they are looking for the very best, with training and investment in astronauts expensive.

The ESA stated: "It takes years to organize a space mission and altogether hundreds of people are involved in preparing the astronauts and the spacecraft. 

"Astronauts are pivotal to the success of a mission but flight opportunities are limited, so space agencies want to be sure that the astronaut selected will make the best possible use of the precious time they will spend in space."


The ability to work under pressure and excellent fitness are needed to be an astronaut. /Sergei Savostyanov/TASS/Getty

The ability to work under pressure and excellent fitness are needed to be an astronaut. /Sergei Savostyanov/TASS/Getty


What do you need on your CV?

The ESA is looking for people who can show an ability to work and take decisions under pressure and a strong academic background in scientific or technical areas is preferred.

Previous jobs in aeronautics, especially if involving operational tasks such as being a test pilot, would be an advantage for applicants. 

Astronauts also need to be in excellent physical condition as they will have to cope with arduous training for several months before space flights. A "long commute to work" will reach another level and they must be prepared to be away from home for long periods.

A balanced temperament, determination and being a team player are key qualities for surviving in space, as is the ability to cope with being in confined spaces for long periods. 

As for language skills, English is essential and good knowledge of Russian an asset as it facilitates training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Russia. Knowledge of American, Russian and Japanese culture is also an advantage to facilitate good relations with international partners on the Space Station.

The ESA states on its website that the preferred age range for astronauts is 27 to 37 and they must be within the height range of 153 to 190 centimeters.

Perhaps a factor that is not considered so much by astronaut applicants is life in the spotlight. Astronauts will be continually making public appearances and so they need to be comfortable with the exposure and able to communicate the importance of their tasks in space.

The road to becoming an astronaut is long, as was shown by the 2008-09 ESA recruitment process, in which 8,413 people qualified for the selection process at the European Astronaut Center, in Cologne, and on May 20, 2009, six new ESA astronauts were presented.

The new process opens on March 31 and the deadline for applications is May 28. After that, the six-stage selection process will start, which is expected to be completed in October 2022.


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