How do you become an astronaut?

The European Space Agency has just announced the names of five new astronauts selected to join the Professional Astronaut Team.

On the French side was Sophie Adenot, the first French woman to test a helicopter, and today a lieutenant colonel in the Air and Space Force. She is the second French woman astronaut, 20 years after Claudie Haignéry.

There is also the British Rosemary Cogan (a doctoral student at the French Space Agency CNES), the Spanish Pablo Alvarez Fernandez, the Belgian Rafael Leygua and the Swiss Marco Siber. John McFaul from the UK became the first Parastronout.

Eleven reservists were also selected and presented to the general public, including the Frenchman Arnaud Proust.

John McFall.

Thus, this new class joins the seven European astronauts already in service, including two Italians, two Germans, an Englishman, a Dane and, of course, a Frenchman, the well-known Thomas Pesquet.

They will be brought to join the International Space Station and perform scientific experiments there: the state of weightlessness aboard the International Space Station makes it possible to carry out experiments impossible to conduct on Earth in fields as diverse as medicine, biology, physics, neurosciences or even botany.

A destination further afield also awaits some element of the new show… the moon! In fact, between now and the end of the decade, European astronauts will take part in three flights aboard the Gateway orbital station, which will be in lunar orbit.

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In the long term, further flights to the lunar surface are envisaged and the next people to walk on the moon could be Europeans.

How was this new promotion of astronauts recruited?

Recruitment campaigns for astronauts in Europe do not happen so often. The last one dates back to 2009: at that time, more than 8,000 candidates applied across Europe, for only six places at the end of the race … This time, more than 22,000 applications were sent in 2021, including more than 7,000 French women (5,400 men and 1,600 women), the nation by far the most represented among the applicants.

Datastronautes Series on Astronaut Selection and Missions (CNES).

Selection of new astronauts takes more than a year. It starts with a certain number of age, training and experience criteria: you must be between 27 and 50 years old, have at least a master’s degree in a scientific field, have at least three years of professional experience and be fluent in English – essential to learning to trade in an international context.

Rosemay Cogan.

If having an engineering degree or a master’s degree in science (natural sciences, aeronautics, mathematics, computer science, etc.) or being a doctor, researcher or pilot is necessary to apply to become an astronaut, a real Swiss knife is also necessary Military: diving, flying, skydiving, music, languages, and foreign experiences; More than technical and scientific skills, candidates must present operational skills.

The so-called “soft skills” are just as important. You must be able to remain calm under pressure, remain motivated in the face of irregular work hours and frequent travel, adapt to your environment, and be a good colleague, eg.

You were not born an astronaut, you became one

The point of the selection is not to search for superheroes and superheroes, but to highlight people who have the potential to become one.

Pablo Alvarez Fernandez.

At the end of the first phase of the file study, which makes it possible to read 90% of the applications, the selected candidates must pass psychological, technical and psychological tests, individual or group, of all kinds: reasoning, orientation in space, ability to multitask, memory tests, mental arithmetic. All in all, there are about two dozen extensive tests whose purpose is not to observe if you are super efficient for one minute, but to test your motivation and analyze it over time if your performance or resistance collapses.

After these tests, there are only a few hundred candidates left. For them, the marathon is just beginning. They undergo group tests to better understand each other’s personalities in different contexts. Here, the goal is clearly not to choose the biggest ego, but those who fit best into a team, will make the best decisions under pressure, will be flexible, patient, persistent, calm, organized, and tolerate confinement well and confined spaces. .

For the few hundred remaining candidates, finally comes the last stage before the final selection: a week’s worth of very intensive medical examinations – cardiologist, neurologist, MRI, ophthalmologist, ENT in particular.

What is waiting for this new upgrade?

For the new astronauts, the adventure is just beginning because now they must be trained. They will each be required to take at least two trips of six-month duration aboard the International Space Station.

Marco Siber.

On board the station, there is no doctor or plumber. Astronauts must be able to do everything, and therefore must learn everything about the operation of the station in order to be able to repair it.

So the training begins with eighteen months of theoretical training, with an update on the menu in many areas: space mechanics, propulsion, biology, space systems, computer science, trajectory computation, but also medicine. Training will take place primarily at the European Cosmonaut Training Center in Cologne, Germany, but astronauts in training will travel to every ISS contributing country, including the United States, Russia, Japan or the United States.

Read more: ‘Parastronauts’: ESA, an example for everyone?

Theoretical learning will be multiplied by many hours in life-size simulators in order to prepare for all situations: training future astronauts, for example, in module models of the International Space Station. These modules allow them to see things as they are at the station and thus be able to train on the one hand for emergency scenarios (extinguishing fires or decompression), and on the other hand (and above all) for their use (PC systems , storage, among others).

As for spacecraft training, the new cosmonauts will train either in Moscow on Soyuzor at SpaceX for Dragon crew. They can also practice in the huge swimming pools that partially recreate the conditions for excursions outside the vehicle called “Eva”, when it is necessary to go outside the International Space Station to carry out repairs for example. These pool exercises take place either in Cologne or the Johnson Space Center.

But most of their training is still… in class.

assignment assignment

Then, when the astronauts are set on a mission — a mission can sometimes take years, and it will take another 18 months to specifically prepare for it.

Raphael Legois.

In fact, each mission includes several scientific experiments that will be carried out on board. Astronauts must know the manipulations and protocols that they will have to perform once they reach their fingertips.

For example, during the Alpha mission, Thomas Pesquet conducted about a hundred experiments, many of which were designed and piloted out of France by CADMOS (Center for Development of Activities in Microgravity and Space Operations)—particularly on astronaut sleep and “remote robot” experiments for guidance and missions. capture.

He’s also tested acoustic clutches for handling objects from a distance, as well as reusable packs—recycling is a major issue with the aim of long-haul flights. On the biological side, Thomas Pesquet also conducted a point experiment, at the same time as 300,000 students on the surface of the Earth.

Read more: Your brain on Mars: Here’s what astronauts on a mission will teach us




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