Closing in on new astronauts
Following a first stage of psychological testing, there are now only 192 highly talented individuals still in with a chance of becoming the new astronauts in ESA's European Astronaut Corps.
This first stage of computer-based psychological testing finished at the end of August and consisted of tests to evaluate the cognitive capabilities of the candidates, such as tests of memory, psycho-motor test, multitasking, linguistic skills, and various forms of visualisation-based tasks.
The remaining 192 candidates from across Europe have now been invited to continue on to the second stage of psychological testing, which started at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany on 15 September and will continue until mid-December.
Almost 10 000 people originally registered as astronaut candidates through the ESA website prior to the closing date of applications on 18 June 2008, of which 8413 fulfilled the initial application criteria. From these individuals 918 were chosen to take part in the first stage of psychological testing.
"I am really looking forward to spring 2009 when we will be able to welcome new European astronauts to reinforce ESA’s Astronaut Corps," said Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight. "In this respect I am working hard together with my team in preparation of the ESA Ministerial Council, that will take place in November, so to have all odds on my side for the approval of new European development programmes. These programmes, once approved, will provide the best opportunities to employ the new talents who will join the European Astronaut Corps, and pave the way to possibly see a European citizen on the Moon."
The second stage of psychological testing is overseen by psychologists and relevant ESA experts and consists of interviews, computer simulations, group exercises, roll playing exercises and behavioural testing.
Following this stage, about 80 candidates will be invited to take part in an extensive medical evaluation to take place in January/February 2009.
Thereafter a formal interview of the final 40 or so candidates will take place with four of these being invited to become members of the European Astronaut Corps in the summer of 2009. The chosen candidates will then begin basic training at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany.
"We are well on the way to finding the most qualified of European men and women to join ESA's Astronaut Corps and who will train to meet the challenges of ISS exploitation and human exploration of our Solar System," said Gerhard Thiele, ESA's Head of Astronaut Division, project manager for astronaut selection and ESA astronaut. "As project manager for astronaut selection I have been extremely impressed by the efforts of the diverse teams of experts I have around me that are professionally and methodically helping to find the few truly exceptional individuals that will achieve their goal of becoming European astronauts. Having left active astronaut service three years ago to take up my new role at ESA, it is a proud moment to be involved in finding the new faces of European human spaceflight."