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Europe narrows down hunt for next astronauts, crewed flights

BERLIN – The European Space Agency has narrowed down its list of candidates for its next generation of astronauts, which includes dozens of people with physical disabilities.

Last year, the agency announced that it had received a record 22,589 applications from people hoping to become the continent’s next generation of astronauts.

The ESA said on Tuesday that it has reduced these to less than 1,400 – 29 of whom have physical disabilities – and hopes to cut the shortlist down to a few dozen applicants by the end of the year for four to six positions in their astronaut training. programme.

The agency’s director general, Josef Aschbacher, said the selection process would be accompanied by a feasibility study to determine what it means to select candidates with disabilities “but, yes, at ESA, we are committed to that.” open space for everyone.”

The ESA has for decades relied on Russian and American partners to launch astronauts into space. The company already has a handful of reservations ahead of its commercial launch in the US. But Aschbacher said Europe could eventually get its own crewed spacecraft if ESA member states endorse the idea at a meeting later this year.

“We’re not just talking about launches, we’re talking about human exploration,” he said, adding that future missions will seek to send astronauts to the moon “and more.” that’s it.”

In the meantime, the agency will continue to develop its robotic capabilities, including a spacecraft capable of carrying large payloads to the Moon, supporting joint missions with partners like NASA.

ESA is also in the early stages of working on a probe that could fly to an ice moon, such as Saturn’s Enceladus, to retrieve a sample and return it to Earth.

“It is possible that there was a very simple, primitive life in the water beneath the ice,” Aschbacher said.

One challenge is that with current technology, a round trip can take decades to complete.

Timing was also a factor in the replacement of one of ESA’s science satellites, Sentinel 1-B, which was decommissioned at the end of December.

Simonetta Cheli, the agency’s director of Earth observations, said the root cause of the failure is still under investigation and it is too early to say whether the successor model, Sentinel 1-C, needs to be modified to avoid suffering the same fate or not.

Any delay in replacing Sentinel 1-B could pose problems for scientists who rely on satellite data for research, including climate change.

“Of course, we’ll need to try and look for options to launch the satellite as soon as possible if 1-B is to end its own lifetime,” Cheli said.

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