Record-high astronaut applications overwhelm European Space Agency

graphic of an astronaut
(Image credit: ESA)

Thousands of would-be space travelers hoping to be among the next-generation of astronauts to fly with the European Space Agency (ESA) will have to wait until at least November to find out if they've got the right stuff after a flood of applicants, agency officials have said. Applications for ESA's astronaut corps and a new program for "parastronauts" with physical disabilities closed on June 18, but potential candidates are being asked for their patience as the number of applicants wildly exceeded the space agency's initial expectations. 

"At ESA, we firmly believe that every application should receive the attention it deserves. With the considerable number of applicants, it simply takes more time than initially foreseen," Guillaume Weerts, the head of space medicine at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre (EAC), said in a statement

Related: What It's Like to Become a NASA Astronaut: 10 Surprising Facts

After ESA's last call for new astronauts in 2008, there were 8,413 finalised online applications. However, this year there has been a boom in interest with over 23,000 applications submitted for ESA to sift through. 

"Upon completion of the pre-screening stage, we found some applications did not fulfil the requirements stated in the applicable documentation, and these applicants were notified immediately," Antonella Costa, Human Resources Business Partner at ESA, said in the statement. "However, more than 80% of all remaining, eligible applications are still under review."

Although an exact notification date on application outcomes has not been set, ESA estimates that applicants will be informed by the end of November at the latest. 

"If you have not yet been invited, it does not necessarily mean that your application is not being considered. We ask you for your patience as we process applications and issue these invitations," Costa added. 

Of those 23,000 applicants, only 1,500 candidates will be invited to the second stage of the selection process, which involves a full day of testing at one of ESA’s facilities in Europe. However, due to COVID-19 travel-related restrictions, applicants are being invited "progressively" until the end of the year. 

All-in-all, there are six key stages in the process to be selected to be one of ESA’s astronauts, which are designed to evaluate applicants' cognitive and physical abilities. After being successful in the initial screening process, successful candidates will go through 3 practical testing phases and then two rounds of interviews before finally being selected as astronauts — a process that will conclude in mid-late 2022.

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Scott Dutfield

Scott is a staff writer for How It Works magazine and has previously written for other science and knowledge outlets, including BBC Wildlife magazine, World of Animals magazine, and All About History magazine. Scott has a masters in science and environmental journalism and a bachelor's degree in conservation biology degree from the University of Lincoln in the U.K. During his academic and professional career, Scott has participated in several animal conservation projects, including English bird surveys, wolf monitoring in Germany and leopard tracking in South Africa.