The European Space Agency is looking for new astronauts - what skills you need and how to apply

Monday, 8th February 2021, 3:53 pm
Updated Monday, 8th February 2021, 3:53 pm
Do you have what it takes to become an astronaut? (Photo: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

For the first time in 11 years, the European Space Agency (ESA) is looking for new astronauts as Europe enters into a new era of space exploration.

ESA Director General Jan Wörner said: “Thanks to a strong mandate from ESA Member States at Space19+, our Ministerial Council in 2019, Europe is taking its place at the heart of space exploration.

“To go farther than we ever have before, we need to look wider than we ever have before.

“This recruitment process is the first step and I look forward to watching the agency develop across all areas of space exploration and innovation, with our international partners, in the years to come.”

David Parker, ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, added: “Representing all parts of our society is a concern that we take very seriously.

“Diversity at ESA should not only address the origin, age, background or gender of our astronauts, but also perhaps physical abilities.

“To make this dream a reality, alongside the astronaut recruitment I am launching the Parastronaut Feasibility Project - an innovation whose time has come.”

What skills and qualifications are required?

The FAQ page on the science and exploration page of the ESA website outlines a number of requirements that are necessary for prospective applicants.

The ESA explains that the ideal age to apply to become an astronaut is 27 to 37.

The ESA also says: “Astronaut candidates should have scientific knowledge and be able to demonstrate outstanding abilities in appropriate fields of work, including experience showing operation skills.”

Additionally, applicants must also have a Master’s degree, or equivalent, in a scientific discipline such as physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering or medicine, with at least three years of postgraduate professional experience.

“This could include working in a lab, conducting research in the field or working in a hospital,” the ESA says. It also adds that experience as a pilot is also “a plus”.

While not mandatory, is it also advantageous for applicants to have studied aeronautics and astronautics.

Applicants must also be able to speak and write English well, and it is also an advantage to know another foreign language. Speaking Russian is also regarded as an asset, but is not a requirement.

Russian is the second official language on the International Space Station, and is taught during astronaut training.

The ESA says: “Above all: no matter what you studied, you should be good at it.”

Health and physical requirements

The ESA says that an applicant:

  • Should be able to pass a JAR-FCL 3, Class 2 medical examination, conducted by an Aviation Medical Examiner certified by their national Aviation Medical Authority
  • Must be free from any disease
  • Must be free from any dependency on drugs, alcohol or tobacco
  • Must have the normal range of motion and functionality in all joints
  • Must have visual acuity in both eyes of 100 per cent (20/20 vision) naturally, or after correction with glasses or contact lenses
  • Must be free from psychiatric disorders
  • Must demonstrate cognitive, mental and personality capabilities to allow them to work efficiently in an intellectually and socially demanding environment

The ESA does not look for extreme fitness or high-level athletes - over-developed muscles may actually be a disadvantage for astronauts living in weightless environments, but it is important to be healthy.

Also, an astronaut must be between 153cm and 190cm.

How to apply

Applications for the vacancies will run from 31 March to 28 May. The ESA will only consider applications submitted through the ESA Career website within these eight weeks.

After that point, a six stage selection process will begin, which is expected to be completed in October 2022.