The European Space Agency (ESA) has completed stage one of its most recent astronaut selection process, in which 1,362 astronauts and 29 para-astronaut candidates made 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 tests for those who reach that far.
In December, ESA admitted that it was still in the process of contacting applicants. But a delay is something that any aspiring astronaut will have to get used to.
Recruitment talks will follow before the new class of astronauts and reserves are unveiled in the fall of 2022.
The gender mix of the 1,362 astronauts is 61 percent male applicants and 39 percent women. The remaining 29 parastronauts consist of 27.6 percent female applicants and 72.4 percent men.
The announcement comes a few days after the January 16 anniversary of NASA's selection in 1978 (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 committee at the time included Sally Ride, who would continue to be the first American woman in space.
ESA hopes to lead by example in opening up applications to potential astronauts with a physical disability. This can be a lack of lower extremity, a difference in leg length or a person under 130 cm in height.
NASA, on the other hand, has a few issues with the management of its astronaut corps. A report [PDF] of its watchdog concluded that the U.S. space agency could fight to meet the needs of the upcoming Artemis missions.
Furthermore, data constraints will "limit NASA's ability to fully measure its progress toward meeting broader diversity, equality, inclusion and accessibility goals," according to the report, "a significant problem given that astronauts are among the most publicly visible contributors to the Agency. "
NASA announced its 2021 astronaut candidate class, consisting of 10 candidates, in December 2021.
Still, ESA should be commended for its parastronaut program. While there is no guarantee of a flight, even for those coming through the later stages of the selection process, it can only be a good thing to increase the number of astronauts that can be selected from. ®