Could you be the next UK or Irish astronaut?

Nina Massey, PA Science Correspondent
·4-min read

The next astronaut, or first parastronaut, from the UK or Ireland could be selected through the European Space Agency’s (ESA) hunt for people to head into space on upcoming missions.

For the first time since 2008, ESA is on the lookout for new astronauts to join its cohort of space explorers and UK citizens of any age and walk of life are invited to apply.

After intensive training, which includes a three-week course in caving and a course in practical geology, the new astronauts will take their first flights into space when they are deployed to the International Space Station.

They are likely to be part of the crew on the next missions to the moon in the late 2020s and through the 2030s.

ESA is also issuing a special call for candidates with physical disabilities to apply to its astronaut reserve.

The pilot project aims to open the astronaut career path to people who, until now, have been excluded from space flight.

Those with a lower limb deficiency or who are considered to be of short stature and meet other recruitment criteria are invited to apply.

ESA will invest in the necessary adaptations of space hardware to enable these otherwise qualified professionals to serve as crew members on a safe space mission

The UK Space Agency expects the next professional astronaut from the UK or Ireland to be selected in this recruitment round and is encouraging all eligible applicants to apply.

While experience of the space sector is not essential, candidates will need a master’s degree (or higher) and a minimum of three years’ experience in natural sciences, medicine, engineering, mathematics or computer sciences. Fluency in English is essential along with other requirements.

The European Space Agency is encouraging women to apply
The European Space Agency is encouraging women to apply (ESA)

The right candidate will be calm under pressure and be willing to participate in life science experiments.

In the past, experiments have included studying the effects of microgravity on human bone and tissue.

Major Tim Peake said: “Over the next few years and decades, space exploration will become even more exciting as we travel back to the moon and even further to Mars.

“For space missions to succeed, they require highly motivated people from diverse backgrounds to combine their skills and work as a team.

“The next generation of UK citizens have so much to offer the world, and so I would encourage anyone who has dreamt of pushing the boundaries of what is possible to take this opportunity to be part of ESA’s future cohort of space pioneers.”

In 1989 Helen Sharman became the first British astronaut when she was selected for the joint UK-Soviet Union mission, Juno.

In May 1991 she spent eight days in space and became the first female astronaut to visit the Mir Space Station.

Tim Peake was the next British astronaut and in 2015 became the first Briton to live on the International Space Station.

Major Peake was the first British person recruited through the ESA astronaut programme where he and five other applicants from the United Kingdom made it to the final stage of the application process.

Science minister, Amanda Solloway, said: “Becoming an astronaut is a dream for many, and Tim Peake’s historic mission to space in 2015 showed millions of Brits that it can become a reality, while putting the UK firmly on the map as a leading space-faring nation.

“With the UK space sector receiving more Government backing than ever before, it’s time for a new generation of British astronauts to answer this call as we continue working with our European partners to push the boundaries of science and exploration even further.”

Applications will open on March 31 and stay open for two months.

There will then be a 17-month process of screening, psychological, practical, and psychometric testing, medical selections and two interview selections until the final applicants will be appointed and announced in October 2022.

– Elsewhere, a scheme to boost the UK’s space businesses, and alert more firms to the possibilities space-related enterprise can bring is set to be launched by the UK Space Agency.

The up to 10-week business accelerator programme, delivered in partnership with business growth experts from Entrepreneurial Spark and the University of Strathclyde, offers free virtual sessions to help companies with their sights set on space to make progress.

The scheme, which will get under way in early March, aims to find entrepreneurs from a wide range of sectors to strengthen the UK’s space industry infrastructure.