ESA proudly presented today six new astronauts from five different European countries who will soon begin training for missions to the International Space Station. The last time ESA selected astronauts, back in the early 1990’s, those astronauts were not guaranteed to have any actual flights in space. But the astronauts introduced today, which include three military pilots, two engineers, and one scientist, are slated to be part of at least seven opportunities to fly on a 6-month increment on the ISS. Additionally, an ESA official said he also hopes they can be part of an international lunar exploration program.
“This is the culmination of a life- long dream,” said Andreas Mogensen, Denmark’s first-ever astronaut. “Your parents and teachers always tell you to dream big, and to follow your dream. But no one tells you what it is like to achieve that dream. I think we’re all in a stsate of shock, but we just have to enjoy the moment. I’m absolutely thrilled to be sitting here today.”
In addition to Mogensen, the other astronauts are:
Samantha Cristoforetti, Italy
Alexander Gerst, Germany
Luca Parmitano, Italy
Timothy Peake, UK
Thomas Pesquet, France
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They were selected following a Europe-wide recruitment process that started last year, which saw 8,413 valid applications. They are the first new recruits to join the European Astronaut Corps since 1992 under this second-ever astronaut selection carried out by ESA.
The earliest any of the new astronauts could fly to space would be 2013, said ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain. The new recruits will begin general astronaut training in September, which lasts for 18 months. After they receive flight assignments, astronauts then train for two years prior to flying in space.
“We are at a turning point in ESA’s human spaceflight activities. Last year, with the launch of the Columbus laboratory and the Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle, ESA became a fully-fledged member of the International Space Station partnership. We are now entering a new phase of utilisation of the unique capabilities offered by the ISS and preparation for international exploration of the Moon and beyond,” said Dordain.
“This is a very important day for human spaceflight in Europe,” said Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight. “These young men and women are the next generation of European space explorers. They have a fantastic career ahead, which will put them right on top of one of the ultimate challenges of our time: going back to the Moon and beyond as part of the global exploration effort.”
British journalists at the press conference expressed excitement but surprise that a UK citizen was chosen, as Britain does not contribute financially to ESA’s human spaceflight program. But Dourdain said that Peake’s qualifications stood out. “We took the best candidates, it didn’t matter which country they were from.”
Source: ESA, press conference