The European Space Agency announced five new professional astronauts as well as the first astronaut in history to be recruited with disabilities on Wednesday after adopting a record budget to fund its projects.
Josef Achbacher, director general of the European Space Agency, told a ministerial council meeting in Paris that two women and three astronauts “will start working immediately.”
Among more than 22,500 applicants, the agency selected the French Sophie Adinot, the Spaniard Pablo Alvarez Fernandez, the Briton Rosemary Cogan, the Belgian Raphael Leguys and the Swiss Marco Siber.
“I’m European, but from the UK,” Cogan said at the ceremony. Despite Britain’s exit from the European Union, it is still in the European Space Agency.
The new recruits begin training next year and aren’t expected to launch into space on a mission until 2026.
They will join astronauts from the European Space Agency’s previous Astronaut Class of 2009, which includes Britain’s Timothy Peake and France’s Thomas Pesquet. From that previous category, an astronaut would be chosen to go to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis mission.
“No one is going to retire today,” Pesquet said, advising new recruits to “hold on tight.”
ESA also announced the first astronaut to enlist with a physical disability, British physician and Paralympic John McFall, who will join the separate “Parastronout Feasibility Programme”.
The 41-year-old had his leg amputated after he was involved in a motorcycle accident at the age of 18.
“It was a whirlwind experience, considering I never thought becoming an astronaut was possible,” he said.
The European Space Agency has also created a reserve of six women and five men who have passed the selection process and can be called up in the future if necessary.
The new astronauts were named after two days of grueling talks by ministers from the European Space Agency’s 22 member states in Paris to decide on future funding for the agency.
They settled on a budget of 16.9 billion euros ($17.5 billion) for the next three years, up 17 percent from the 14.5 billion euros agreed at the last cabinet meeting in 2019.
But it was far less than the 18.5 billion requested by Aschbacher.
“With inflation going up, I have to say I’m very impressed with that number,” Ashbacher said at the meeting.
Achbacher said the increased funds were needed for Europe so as not to “miss the train” in the face of competition in space from the United States and China.
French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire hailed the “great success”, which “exceeded expectations”.
Negotiations about each country’s contribution dragged on until the last minute before the announcement.
The largest contributors were Germany with 3.5 billion euros, France with 3.25 billion euros and Italy with 3.1 billion euros.
However, the total commitment remains far short of NASA’s $24 billion budget for 2022 alone.
Earthwatch programmes, which monitor climate change back on Earth, got a six percent funding increase to nearly €2.7 billion.
The budget for robotic and human exploration jumped 36% to 2.7 billion, while telecommunications rose 19% to 1.9 billion euros.
The missile launch systems budget has been increased by a third, to 2.8 billion euros.
Launchers, which have been the subject of sensitive negotiations, are essential for Europe so that it can send missions into space without outside help.
The European Space Agency has struggled to get off the ground since Russia withdrew its Soyuz rockets earlier this year in response to European sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The task has been made more difficult by the delay in the launch of its flagship Ariane 6 rocket, which was supposed to make its first flight in 2020, but will now take off at the end of next year.
The European Space Agency even had to resort to using Falcon 9 rockets from rival SpaceX to launch two upcoming science missions.
Negotiations were boosted on Tuesday when France, Germany and Italy announced support for Ariane 6, the smaller European-made Vega-C launcher and small and medium launch systems.
The ExoMars mission, which was left without a flight after Russia withdrew its missiles, will move forward with US help, Ashbacher said.
© 2022 AFP
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