In all, 321 Portuguese, more than women, have applied for one of the 26 new ESA (ESA) astronaut places, including four men with some physical disability, that have been announced by the agency.
According to the European Space Agency, which today released provisional figures for the number of candidates for its new astronaut recruitment drive, 260 men competed in Portugal, including four with some physical disability, and 61 women.
The application process began on March 31 and ended last Friday, June 18. Places are open for four to six permanent astronauts and 20 reserve astronauts, including for the first time an astronaut with a physical disability (can be less than 1.30 m in height, one or two prostheses below the knee or at the ankle level and dysplasia, difference leg length). In all, 22,846 people from 25 eligible European countries applied, including 257 with physical disabilities. Of the total number of candidates, 17,367 are men and 5,479 are women.
Since 2008, the European Space Agency, of which Portugal has been a member since 2000, has not recruited astronauts. The agency has done so now as it contemplates future missions to the Moon or even Mars with the goal of increasing the number of women in space.
Currently, the only woman in the ESA’s active corps of seven astronauts is Italian Samantha Cristoforetti, the first person to make espresso coffee on the International Space Station (ISS) in Earth orbit, who in 2022 will become the first European to pilot an EEI.
In the previous ESA nomination, in 2008, 8,413 candidates were submitted (7,043 men and 1,287 women), of whom 210 were Portuguese (192 men and 28 women).
“When you compare it to the 2008 figures, we see that Portugal has seen a more than 50% increase in the number of candidates, which is important, but perhaps the most important thing to remember is the fact that the number of Portuguese women who want repeat astronauts, which makes us very happy. Hugo Costa, a member of the board of directors of the Portuguese space agency, Portugal Space, congratulated in a statement issued by the entity.
According to Hugo Costa, the increase in the number of Portuguese candidates is “a consequence of the growth of aerospace activities in Portugal, which increases the attractiveness of the sector”, but also “a reflection of the excellent quality of human resources that come from national universities to look for truly extraordinary challenges that undoubtedly constitute an encouragement for the future space in Portugal.
France, Germany and Italy are the three countries with the highest number of candidates, and Portugal is the 11th country out of 22 ESA member countries and three associate countries.
Once the applications are validated, the selection of candidates will follow, a demanding multi-stage process, with technical and cognitive tests, motor coordination and personality, individual and group exercises, medical exams and interviews, which should only be completed in October 2022.
The new process requires four to six people to be selected for the permanent team of ESA astronauts and a maximum of 20 people to be part of a reserve, including “Parastronnaut”.
Through the “Parastronaut” programme, the European Space Agency intends to study conditions and technologies that ensure safe missions for people with disabilities as well.
Nominated four to six candidates, who join the European Space Agency as professional astronauts, will be offered an employment contract for an initial period of four years.
For the first time, the European Space Agency will create an Astronaut Pool, consisting of candidates who were not appointed but who have been equally successful in the entire selection process.
Although they do not have a work contract with the European Space Agency, they can be called upon for specific space missions, so they maintain an annual medical certificate and benefit from training on the agency’s programs.
Currently, the ESA’s active astronaut team consists of seven astronauts – from Italy (2), Germany (2), the United Kingdom (1), Denmark (1) and France (1).