A German engineer has been named to the European Space Agency's (ESA) astronaut class — of 2009.
Eight years ago, Matthias Maurer finished as one of the 10 finalists for Europe's astronaut corps, but was passed over for the 2009 class. Now, after the six candidates who were chosen have each made one spaceflight and are in line for a second, Maurer has begun his training at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne.
"He will be, in the future, assignable to a flight," said ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich Woerner, at a briefing on Jan. 18 at the space agency's headquarters in Paris. [Watch Maurer's 2009 'classmate' test drive a robot from space]
Maurer's astronaut assignment was officially announced Thursday (Feb. 2) at ESA's operations center in Darmstadt, Germany.
"Maurer's nomination reflects the agency's success in the [space] station program bringing new flight opportunities in the near future," ESA stated on its website. "Matthias is the seventh member of the 2009 astronaut class."
"Becoming an astronaut is the best job that I can imagine," stated Maurer. "I am thrilled to join Europe's finest team for missions around Earth, to the moon and beyond."
After missing the initial cut for the 2009 class, Maurer was hired by ESA as a crew support engineer, giving him a first taste of his future job through the training he received and experience obtained in human spaceflight operations. As a Eurocom spacecraft communicator, he supported his now fellow astronauts while they were in space.
Maurer experienced floating weightless on parabolic flights while assisting in the training of Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti in 2014, and in that same year he took part in ESA's CAVES underground training.
In the summer of 2016, Maurer joined NASA's NEEMO 21 crew, living and working underwater on board the Aquarius station off the coast of Florida as an analog for spaceflight.
"I've trained with [Maurer] underground, above ground and underwater," wrote European astronaut Luca Parmitano on Twitter. "I'd fly with him anywhere, anytime."
In addition to Parmitano and Cristoforetti, both from Italy, Maurer's new astronaut classmates include fellow German Alexander Gerst, Andreas Mogensen of Denmark and the United Kingdom's Tim Peake. Thomas Pesquet of France, the sixth original member of the 2009 class, is now three months into a sixth month stay on the International Space Station.
"Welcome aboard!" tweeted Pesquet from orbit. "Matthias and I worked together at the ESA Astronaut Centre. Great to have another familiar face join the astro squad!"
Maurer, 46, earned a PhD in materials science engineering and has a background in physics and chemistry, which in combination with his work experience in the medical field, corresponds to the primary areas of research on the space station. [Maurer sequenced DNA under the sea during NEEMO 21]
According to ESA, Maurer speaks four languages and is learning Russian and Chinese. He served as a paramedic and studied at universities in Germany, France, Spain and the United Kingdom. He served in internships in Argentina, Spain and South Korea.
"When I saw ESA's astronaut recruitment announcement in 2008, I knew that this was the perfect combination of my ambitions: to fly, to conduct research and to explore while working [on] an international and intercultural team on the forefront of science and technology," said Maurer.
"Spaceflight is fascinating and inspiring," Maurer stated. "It appeals to all generations."
Maurer is not the first person to be retroactively named to an earlier year's astronaut selection class.
Cosmonauts Georgy Beregovoy and Vasily Lazarev were chosen in 1964 and 1966, respectively, but joined classes chosen a year earlier, according to Michael Cassutt, author of "Who's Who in Space."
Watch a video about Matthias Maurer's European Space Agency career at collectSPACE.