Officials from the European Space Agency (ESA) arrived in Britain on Thursday as part of a recruitment drive to find new blood for the agency’s aging astronaut corps.
The ESA is looking for at least four new astronauts, who can expect to fly on missions to the International Space Station and conceivably take part in NASA’s mission to return to the moon around 2020.
The ESA’s eight existing astronauts are all male and have an average age of 50. Those with the right stuff are most likely to be scientists, engineers and test pilots aged between 27 and 37.
The ESA is expecting up to 50,000 applicants from around Europe. Those who pass the first stage will be invited for two rounds of psychological tests, a thorough medical and, for the 40 or so that make it to the last stage, an interview. The whole process is expected to take a year.
Agency officials urged well-qualified Britons to apply regardless of the British government’s longstanding opposition to human spaceflight.
Although Britain is the fourth-largest ESA funder, contributing £200 million (US$400 million) a year, that goes towards robotic space missions. Historically, the ESA has not selected astronauts from countries that do not fund human spaceflight.
“We are looking for the best people, and the door is open to all member states of the agency,” said Alan Thirkettle, the ESA’s program manager for the International Space Station.
Frank Danesy, the head of human resources at the agency, said successful candidates would need to fit a stringent personality profile, be motivated, flexible, emotionally stable and gregarious, with good communication and interpersonal skills, and be able to work in a team.
Gail Ives, 33, a physicist at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, will be among the British applicants:
“If Britain had its own astronaut, it would inspire the next generation of scientists,” Ives said.