Europe needs more astronauts – here's what it takes to become one

For the first time in 11 years, the European Space Agency (ESA) is recruiting new astronauts. Applications will open on March 31, 2021 for eight weeks, followed by a six-stage selection process to identify the next generation of European astronauts.

By 2030, humans will walk on the lunar surface again, travel to Mars and possibly enjoy suborbital holidays. The new space age will bring tremendous benefits to all of us. It will drive technology forward as we find ways to live sustainably beyond planet earth, create exciting jobs and create new socio-economic opportunities.

Recruiting new astronauts is the first step in this new era of human space exploration. Many people may have dreamed of becoming an astronaut since childhood, but do you have what it takes?

The criterion

Becoming an astronaut is neither easy nor easy. Esa is looking for candidates with different profiles and backgrounds. There are a few, however Minimum requirements.

Candidates should have proficiency in scientific disciplines with a university degree in physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering or medicine. You must have demonstrated operational and managerial skills and preferably have flight experience. However, there are many other skills that can be of great use in choosing such as wilderness experience, teamwork and adaptability, self-control and language skills.

This time, Esa is opening up its physical fitness criteria for applicants and encouraging people with physical disabilities to apply if they otherwise meet the bill. This is part of a project exploring how best to customize space travel for disabled astronauts.

The physical challenges

Advances in technology have enabled us not only to put humans into space, but to live in space as well.

However, these longer space missions present human health and performance challenges far greater than the challenges astronauts are currently facing. Unprecedented distance, duration, isolation, and increasingly autonomous operations will be associated with long exposure to another type of gravity on Earth – like weightlessness or the partial gravity on the Moon and Mars.

Space is a hostile environment for human healthwith extreme temperatures, lack of air pressure, microgravity, solar and galactic cosmic rays and high-speed micrometeorites.

Radiation is taken into account one of the most threatening of space dangers. On earth, the planet’s magnetic field and atmosphere protect us from most of the particles that make up space radiation. Even brief exposure to space radiation can be extremely harmful. Radiation has been shown to increase cancer risk, damage the central nervous system, alter cognitive functions, decrease motor control and affect behavior.

Transitioning from Earth’s gravity to another is also more difficult than it sounds. Exposure to non-terrestrial gravity leads to dramatic structural and functional changes in human physiology, including changes in the cardiovascular, neural and Musculoskeletal system.

For example, entering weightlessness removes pressure from body tissues, causing fluids to migrate from the legs to the upper body and head – you may have noticed astronauts. ” puffy faces. As a result, eyesight deteriorates due to the changes in pressure in the brain. Changes have been noted in muscles, which shrink and absorb extra tissue from lack of use, as well as in bones, which lose about 15% of their structural density.

The mental challenges

Among the most critical problems humans face in long-term spaceflight are those cognitive, psychological and psychosocial challenges. It is not an easy task to live with other people for a long time in a confined space, far away from home, in weightlessness.

Dealing with weightlessness is extremely difficult for the human brain. During their first few days of weightlessness, between 40% and 60% of astronauts suffer from a condition known as Space adaptation sickness. This causes symptoms of dizziness, dizziness, headache, cold sweats, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. The consequences range from mild discomfort to impaired cognitive performance. For this reason no Activities outside the vehicle or Space walks are allowed in the first days of the space missions.

Psychosocial changes have also been observed in astronauts. Some have shown decreased communication skills, fewer interactions with other crew members, and a tendency to focus more on themselves. Decline in motivation, Fatigue and social tension can easily be triggered by isolation and containment in an extremely demanding and life threatening environment.

No wonder, then, that space agencies pay attention to cognitive and psychological demands when selecting new astronauts. Candidates should demonstrate good thinking skills, memory and focus, the ability to collaborate with others, low levels of aggression, and emotional stability in order to cope with the level of stress and emergencies that can arise during space travel.

Long-lived spaceflight has presented crews operating in the space environment with a variety of challenges. Through years of physical and psychological training as well as medical and operational support during the flight, astronauts are equipped with excellent tools to cope with the stresses of space travel. It’s not an easy task, but certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The conversation

Elisa Raffaella Ferrè, Lecturer, Institute for Psychology, Royal Holloway

This article is republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article.

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