The question of how to become an astronaut seems too dreamlike for many people to even imagine. But this March, the European Space Agency (ESA) will begin recruiting new astronauts, the organization announced today. This marks the first time since 2008 that the agency has gone looking for new recruits.
The ESA’s astronaut candidate program will officially launch on March 31. From that day until May 28, you’ll be able to register with the ESA.
To spread the word, the agency will kick off a major recruiting campaign on February 16. On May 28, a six-round selection process will begin. And by October of 2022, it should become clear who the ESA has accepted into their astronaut training program.
A special trajectory will also be opened for astronauts with a physical disability: the Parastronaut Feasibility Project. It is still unknown exactly what form this process will assume.
“Europe is taking its place at the heart of space exploration,” said ESA Director General Jan Wörner. “To go farther than we ever have before, we need to look wider than we ever have before,” he said.
The most recent selection round, in 2008, included current astronauts Alexander Gerst (from Germany), Samantha Cristoforetti (Italy), and Thomas Pesquet (France). In the spring of this year, Pesquet will become the first European to fly with SpaceX. That company’s capsule already took astronauts to the International Space Station in May 2020, becoming the first commercial spacecraft to do so.
So do I have the right stuff? Where do I sign up?
According to the ESA website, the “astronaut selection process” is based on the requirements of the upcoming missions.
In general, the most important considerations are “psychological suitability, scientific and technical competence, and fulfilment of medical criteria.”
More specifically, applicants need to be nationals of one of the ESA’s 22 member states. Those countries currently include Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
How to become an astronaut, part 1: age, height, and education
The “preferred age range” is 27 to 37, though it is unclear how strict that preference is. More strict, though, are their astronaut height requirements. The acceptable height range is from 153 cm (5 feet) to 190 cm (6′ 3″).
Applicants also need to speak and read English. In terms of your astronuat background, you should have a university degree or equivalent in “Natural Sciences, Engineering or Medicine.”
Likewise, you should preferably have at least three years of postgraduate professional experience in a related field. “Flying experience,” the agency notes, “is welcome.”
How to become an astronaut, part 2: the ESA’s physical and mental health requirements
Applicants also need to be in good health, with a “satisfactory” medical history, a “normal” weight, and a “sound mental disposition.”
Applicants’ muscular, cardiovascular and vestibular systems will be thoroughly tested.
Psychologically, applicants need to have “good reasoning capability and memory, concentration, aptitude for spatial orientation, and manual dexterity.” In terms of personality, a potential astronaut needs to be motivated, flexible, sociable, and empathetic. Aggression and neuroticism, on the other hand, are undesirable traits.
And being able to work “as a team member in an intercultural environment” is also very important, especially for the long-term missions on the Space Station.
Finally, candidates need to have good scientific knowledge, and “proven outstanding ability” in relevant fields, which preferably includes operational skills.
Astronaut pay: once you get hired, this will be your ESA astronaut salary
So how much can you expect to earn, assuming you get chosen? The typical ESA astronaut salary starts at the A2 level. As of January 2020, that was € 74,646 (or $ 89,996 USD).
After you successfully complete your basic astronaut training, you’ll move up to the ESA’s A3 pay grade (€ 92,109, or $111,051 USD).
Finally, after your first spaceflight, you’ll get bumped up to the A4 pay grade (€ 107,035 or $129,046 USD). At that point, you’ll be a real astronaut, with a real astronaut salary.
You’ll also get an “expatriation allowance” of 10% for the first five years. Plus a supplement of €353 per month for every dependent child, and in some cases an extra monthly expatriation allowance of €99 per child. Plus a “basic family allowance” of another €353 per month, “doubled for staff receiving the expatriation allowance.” Plus a generous pension plan. And at least 32 days paid leave at first, plus a few more days every year you stay on.
Oh, and all those salaries and allowances are tax-free.
And finally, where will I work?
As one of the ESA’s new astronauts, you’ll probably start your astronaut training at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany. During astronaut school, you might also be sent to the United States or Russia for further training, as required by the mission.
So mark your calendars now, and start preparing your astronaut application today.