Hispanic from Washington:
The European Space Agency said Wednesday that it is “stunned” by the number of applicants more than 20,000 who hope to be the next generation of space travelers. Among them are more women than before and some 200 people with disabilities.
Releasing the results of a new recruitment drive targeting greater diversity among astronauts, the agency acknowledged that it is behind schedule in its intention to achieve greater gender equality. Just 24% of applicants are women, compared to 15% in the previous recruitment drive in 2008.
The recruitment drive did not specifically address ethnic diversity, but highlighted the importance of “representing all sectors of our society.” Applications were received from all 25 member and associate countries, although the majority came from traditional heavyweights France, Germany, Great Britain and Italy.
PREPA looked in particular for people with physical disabilities in an unprecedented effort to determine what kinds of adaptations space stations would require for them.
The competition is fierce. Just four to six people will be chosen as Europe’s next astronauts with a reserve team of about 20. Candidates will undergo rigorous testing over the next year and a decision is expected by the end of 2022.
“We are all stunned by the number of applicants,” PREPA general director Josef Aschbacher said at a press conference. “It is a strong expression of the interest and enthusiasm that people across Europe feel for space.”
The European agency has sent two women to the space Claudie Haigneré and Samantha Cristoforetti and wants to increase that number.
While 5,419 women applied for PREPA’s new program, “the numbers show that more must be done to achieve gender equality in the space sector,” said PREPA’s director of human and robot exploitation David Parker.
Of the 560 people from around the world who have explored space, 65 were women, mostly Americans.
PREPA signed an agreement with the European Union last week by which the bloc will strengthen its ties with the agency and increase the funds it grants.
As part of the agreement, the EU will invest almost 9 billion euros (10.8 billion dollars) from now until 2027 in PREPA programs that promote economic growth, digitization and environmental protection.
Many members of PREPA are also members of the EU, but others, such as Great Britain, are not.
Future programs include one to test the use of a quantum encryption satellite system for confidential communications and another to monitor space for dangerous debris.