European space agency seeks 4 astronauts

In its third astronaut recruitment drive after 1978 and 1992, the European Space Agency is seeking four new astronauts who could take part in space missions starting in 2012 or 2013.


Wanted: men and women between the ages of 27 and 37 with solid background in science, exceptional human qualities such as team spirit and fluent English, to become Europe's new astronauts.

The European Space Agency on Friday launched a recruitment drive for four new astronauts who could take part in space missions starting in 2012 or 2013.

Applications are open to citizens from the space agency's 17 member countries and organisers say they expect between 20,000 and 50,000 aspiring astronauts to try out.

"Women are welcome, but very few apply," said Michel Tognini, who heads the space agency's eight-member astronaut corps.

The new astronauts are expected to spend time in the International Space Station and possibly fly to the Moon and Mars, said Jean-Jacques Favier, a director af the French government CNES space agency.

But "as an astronaut, you actually spend very little time in space," cautioned former astronaut Claude Nicollier from Switzerland, who took part in four US shuttle missions.

Most of the time is devoted to training, developing expertise and learning technical skills.

A first selection will start on May 19, to be followed by a battery of psychological tests, skills assessments, medical evaluations and formal interviews.  The four winners will be announced in 2009.

ESA astronauts have worked on the Columbus laboratory onboard the International Space Station and man the new ATV cargo ships that deliver fresh supplies to the station.

With the injection of new talent to the space agency, "Europe will be able to fulfill its commitments in the exploration of our solar system," said Favier.

It is the third astronaut recruitment drive launched by the European Space Agency after 1978 and 1992.

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