The European Space Agency is recruiting new astronauts for the first time in 11 years – as the agency said it hopes to put human beings on the moon before the end of the decade.
The ESA’s new vacancies will open on 31 March, 2021, and the agency is strongly encouraging women to apply, to “expand gender diversity”.
The agency is also exploring the idea of recruiting astronauts with physical disabilities.
ESA director general Jan Wörner said: “Europe is taking its place at the heart of space exploration. To go farther than we ever have before, we need to look wider than we ever have before.
“This recruitment process is the first step and I look forward to watching the agency develop across all areas of space exploration and innovation, with our international partners, in the years to come.”
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The agency reaffirmed its commitment to diversity – and to investigating the idea of astronauts with physical disabilities under the Parastronaut Feasibility Project.
"Representing all parts of our society is a concern that we take very seriously,” says David Parker, ESA director of human and robotic exploration.
“Diversity at ESA should not only address the origin, age, background or gender of our astronauts, but also perhaps physical disabilities.
“To make this dream a reality, alongside the astronaut recruitment I am launching the Parastronaut Feasibility Project – an innovation whose time has come."
The vacancy runs from 31 March to 28 May 2021 and ESA will only consider applications submitted to the ESA Career website within those eight weeks.
After that, the six-stage selection process will start, and is expected to be completed in October 2022.
Earlier this year, ESA chiefs said that a European astronaut could fly to the moon before the end of the decade.
Wörner said: “What I heard all the time – also during the Trump administration – but what we heard from Nasa is that the schedule to go to the moon and land people on the surface of the moon in 2024 is really difficult.
“Therefore I believe that now, with all these changes, the pressure is a little bit off, and therefore I believe there will be humans on the surface of the moon soon.
“And maybe – I don’t have a crystal ball – but let’s say I’m sure that in 2025/2026 there will be something.
“I hope that we will have some European at the end of this decade over there."
Nasa last year revealed new details of its plan to put a woman on the moon by 2024, including the cost and planned landing site for the mission.
Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine described the mission as “well within reach”, saying it is a first step toward’s America’s ambition of a manned mission to Mars.
It would be the first time people have walked on the moon since the last Apollo moon mission in 1972.
Just 12 people have walked on the moon – all men.
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Nasa flew six manned missions to the surface of the moon, beginning with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969, up to Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt in December 1972.
The mission will use Nasa's powerful new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft.
Nasa says the spacecraft is complete while the core stage and its attached four engines are undergoing a final series of tests that will culminate in a critical hot fire test this autumn.
Nasa will launch an SLS and an Orion together on two flight tests around the moon to check performance, life support, and communication capabilities.
The first mission – known as Artemis I – is on track for 2021 without astronauts, and Artemis II will fly with crew in 2023.
In 2024, Artemis III will be humanity’s return to the surface of the moon – landing the first astronauts on the lunar South Pole.
After launching on SLS, astronauts will travel about 240,000 miles to lunar orbit aboard Orion, at which point they will directly board one of the new commercial human landing systems.
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