Europe's New Astronaut Class Makes the Grade
The European Space Agency's newest astronauts received their awards and were named officially as 'astronauts' in a ceremony held at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, on Nov. 22, 2010. From left to right: Jean-Jacques Dordain (ESA's Director General), Thomas Pesquet, Luca Parmitano, Alexander Gerst, Samantha Cristoforetti, Simonetta Di Pippo (Director of Human Spaceflight), Andreas Mogensen, Timothy Peake and Michel Togini (Director of the European Astronaut Centre).
Credit: ESA - S. Corvaja

It was a day of pomp and circumstance for six Europeans who proudly received their diplomas and officially became professional astronauts in a graduation ceremony held Monday (Nov. 22) in Germany.

The European Space Agency welcomed the new astronauts into its ranks with an event held at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany. Friends, family, guests and members of the media were on hand to mark the official end of Basic Training, the first phase of European astronaut education.

Samantha Cristoforetti from Italy, Alexander Gerst from Germany, Andreas Mogensen from Denmark, Luca Parmitano from Italy, Timothy Peake from the United Kingdom and Thomas Pesquet from France were presented with certificates signed by ESA's director general, its director of human spaceflight and the head of the agency's astronaut group.

The astronauts' Basic Training covered space engineering, electrical engineering, various scientific disciplines and the major systems of the International Space Station and other space vehicles. They also received instruction in scuba diving to prepare for spacewalks, robotics, survival training, rendezvous and docking, and Russian language ? important for working with cosmonauts and Russian ground control partners on the space station.

The astronaut candidates were originally chosen in 2009, and one of the main selection criteria was the ability to work as part of a team.

"When we introduced these six new astronauts, the most important part was not that there were six individuals representing five member countries, but a team of six persons representing Europe," ESA's director general Jean-Jacques Dordain said at the ceremony. "We can't assign you all to one single mission, but you will all fly to space and, when you do, I hope you consider a mission of one of you as mission of your team, too."

And the time for such a mission could be just around the corner.

"ESA has three new flight opportunities to the ISS before 2015, so half of the new astronauts will have an opportunity to fly in space very soon," said Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA's director of human spaceflight. "I hope that with these flight opportunities and with these new astronauts we can give a further push to scientific utilization of the space station." [Graphic: Inside and Out: The International Space Station]

ESA's newest astronaut class was selected from a pool of more than 8,000 applicants, following an initial call for candidates from all Member States in 2008.

After a year-long process, Cristoforetti, Gerst, Mogensen, Parmitano, Peake and Pesquet were invited to join ESA's astronaut group in May 2009.

The new astronauts will now continue with pre-assignment training, and will take part in public relations activities. Once assigned to a mission, they will concentrate on specialized training designed for the mission.