PARIS — The European Space Agency unveiled its next generation of astronauts Wednesday, with five of them set to start their year-long basic training in April.
The main criteria was to “make sure they push the right buttons and not the wrong ones,” joked Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s director general, who conducted the final interview round.
Along with the core five astronauts, a reserve list has been drafted which includes a disabled Brit, John McFall, who lost a leg following a motorcycle accident at the age of 19 and will help ESA research the possibility of putting a para-astronaut into space.
The space explorer announcement, which came on the sidelines of ESA’s triennial funding summit in Paris, marks the first time in 13 years that the agency has welcomed new European space explorers; the final candidates were whittled down through six rounds from 22,253 applicants.
The new cohort will eventually replace the likes of France’s Coldplay mega-fan Thomas Pesquet and Italy’s Samantha Cristoforetti, the International Space Station’s once-resident barista, as they retire from active duty.
There’s even a chance that one of the newbies will be the first European to land on the moon, if ESA can strike a deal with NASA that would free up a seat on one of the Artemis missions to the lunar surface in the early 2030s.
Here’s the team:
Fun fact: She’s a career officer in the French airforce and a helicopter test pilot with over 3,000 flight hours banked already. Her master’s thesis was on how the vestibular system adapts to artificial gravity changes, which will surely come in handy.
Pablo Álvarez Fernández
Fun fact: He’s an engineer currently working in Madrid, but says he’s lived across Europe and has been working on the ExoMars rover project, which was once a major joint cooperation venture with Russia’s Roscosmos.
Nationality: British (but makes a point of insisting she’s European)
Fun fact: A Royal Navy reservist who did a Ph.D. in astrophysics, she now works with French space agency CNES. She’s lived in Germany and spent time as a visiting astronomer at an observatory in Hawaii.
Fun fact: He’s a hot air balloon pilot and did a four-month cycling trip from Singapore to Belgium so he could meet poets along the way. He finished a Ph.D. in neuroscience in Liege in 2015 and has been working as a researcher since then.
Fun fact: Emergency medical doctor currently studying neurology after training as a paratrooper with Swiss special forces. “I like everything that has to do with flying, paragliding, skydiving,” he says.
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