The Discovery Channel is launching a new reality show competition series, "Who Wants To Be An Astronaut," that aims to send ordinary people into space, the network announced Today (May 18).
Axiom Space says it will rocket the lucky winner of the competition to the International Space Station for an eight-day mission. They aim for this mission to follow the launch of the world's first all-private mission to the orbiting complex, which the company hopes to launch in 2022.
That said, NASA has not yet stated if they will allow the winner of this reality series onto the space station. A few weeks ago, a spaceflight reality show competition called "Space Hero" announced that it had signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA, but the agency clarified that so far, the agreement doesn't say that the winner can fly to the space station as the series advertises.
The casting call on Discovery's website says that eligibility is limited to U.S. residents or citizens, with additional requirements to be disclosed. For now, there are few other details about eligibility for hopeful astronauts applying to the Discovery show, the expected challenges entrants will face and who will serve as judges for the competition, as the series isn't expected to start filming until next year.
It is so far unclear whether or not eligibility may include people with physical disabilities, but the casting call does include questions about your degree of impairment with physical activities. (The European Space Agency's current astronaut process is open to candidates with physical disabilities, and the forthcoming Inspiration4 mission includes Hayley Arceneaux, who has a prosthetic limb after childhood bone cancer.)
Discovery said the series will be in eight parts and will chronicle a "grueling" process. "The series will follow each of the contestants competing for the opportunity in a variety of extreme challenges designed to test them on the attributes real astronauts need most, and as they undergo the training necessary to qualify for space flight and life on board the space station," the channel said in a statement.
"In the end, one lucky candidate, deemed to have the right stuff by a panel of expert judges, will punch their ticket for an adventure few have ever taken. The series will chronicle each pivotal moment along the way – from lift off to re-entry and the return home."
The show will be available on the main Discovery Channel as well as its affiliate website and apps, the company noted.
Perhaps the most interesting comparison to Discovery's efforts is the flights of Toyohiro Akiyama and Helen Sharman, Japanese and British private citizens, respectively, who visited the then-Soviet Union's Mir space station in 1990 and 1991. Akiyama, a TV journalist, was selected from 163 Tokyo Broadcasting System employees who applied for the flight. Sharman, a British chemist, won a ride in a contest (which attracted 13,000 applicants) sponsored by several British companies that aimed to send a British citizen to Mir.
Prior to upcoming commercial launches and the all-private Inspiration4 mission, NASA flew a few private flyers, teachers and politicians as "spaceflight participants" on the space shuttle in the 1980s (including teacher Christa McAuliffe who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle accident and newly named administrator Bill Nelson, then a member of the House of Representatives). Also, a handful of rich tourists have also made it to space after paying for their seat.
That said, other astronaut competitions open to the public haven't yet resulted in a promised spaceflight. In 2017, for example, Suzanne Imber won the BBC Two television program "Astronauts, Do You Have What It Takes?" in which judge and former astronaut Chris Hadfield recommended her for the European Space Agency after a competitive process. Imber has not yet gone on to fly.
In 2012, an effort called Mars One announced its plans to send people on a one-way trip to the Red Planet, with a possible TV series to help generate funding and interest. It winnowed down the competition to a few dozen entrants before going bankrupt in 2019.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.