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ESA announces new astronaut class, including first 'parastronaut'

November 23, 2022

— The European Space Agency (ESA) has selected its first new astronaut class in 13 years, including five men and women who will report for training in 2023, 11 "reserve" members who will return to their day jobs until they are needed and one "parastronaut" who will demonstrate that having a disability is not a barrier to spaceflight.

Selected from a pool of more than 22,500 applicants from 25 European nations, the 17-member 2022 class includes trainees from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The group includes eight women and nine men.

"If you look at these wonderful people here, of course the selection was about talent and about capabilities to be a fantastic astronaut, but I'm also very proud that it happens to be a very good distribution of genders," Josef Aschbacher, ESA director general, said at the Grand Palais Éphémère in Paris, where the new astronauts were announced on Wednesday (Nov. 23). "So we have almost 50 percent ladies in this group and I think that's also very important and from very different countries."

Announcing ESA's new class of astronauts. Click to enlarge video in new window. (ESA)

Of the 17, only six will report at first to the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany to begin their basic training next year. The other 11 candidates will return to their places of work until such time that more flight opportunities are available.

"The astronauts in the reserve pool are astronauts as the name says, so there is no difference. They are astronauts, but they are not yet engaged by ESA directly through a permanent contact. They will be available for future astronaut activities," said Aschbacher. "We will give them a short contract so that they work with us and we can interact with them regularly. Then, if opportunities arise maybe later on, they can then be put into baseline training for future missions."

The five "career" astronauts and parastronaut will train for missions on board the International Space Station, while the seven veteran members of the 2009 ESA astronaut class are considered for moon missions with NASA's Artemis program.

The 2022 career astronauts include:

  • Sophie Adenot, 40, helicopter experimental test pilot from France

  • Pablo Álvarez Fernández, 34, aeronautical engineer from Spain

  • Rosemary Coogan, 31, astronomer from Northern Ireland (UK)

  • Raphaël Liégeois, 34, neuroscientist from Belgium

  • Marco Sieber, 33, emergency medical doctor from Switzerland

The reserve members include:

  • Meganne Christian, 35, chemist and CEO from the UK

  • Anthea Comellini, 30, flight controller from Italy

  • Sara García Alonso, 33, biomedical scientist from Spain

  • Andrea Patassa, 31, experimental test pilot from Italy

  • Carmen Possnig, 34, space physiologist from Austria

  • Arnaud Prost, 30, flight test engineer from France

  • Amelie Schoenenwald, 33, medical expert manager from Germany

  • Aleš Svoboda, 36, weapons and tactics officer from Czech Republic

  • Sławosz Uznański, 38, senior reliability engineer from Poland

  • Marcus Wandt, 42, chief test pilot from Sweden

  • Nicola Winter, 37, fighter pilot and risk management trainer from Germany

John McFall was chosen to be ESA's first parastronaut. A 41-year-old surgeon and professional athlete from the UK, McFall was 19 when a motorcycle accident resulted in the amputation of his right leg.

"With my broad scientific background and vast range of experiences, I felt compelled to try and help ESA answer this question: Can we get someone with a physical disability to do meaningful work in space?" said McFall.

David Parker, ESA's director of human and robotic exploration, said that McFall's selection was done using the same criteria as ESA used to choose the other 16 members of the 2022 astronaut class.

"We are going to work with [McFall] to understand how to adapt the space vehicle — maybe it's something aboard the space station — to ensure that [he] can live and work and do a meaningful mission aboard the station," said Parker.

Since 1988, the European Astronaut Corps has included 30 members, of which seven are active today: Samantha Cristoforetti, Alexander Gerst, Andreas Mogensen, Luca Parmitano, Timothy Peake, Thomas Pesquet and Matthias Maurer. All seven have flown to the International Space Station, with four going twice (a fifth, Mogensen, is assigned to his upcoming second flight).

"We are excited to welcome the new astronaut class of 2022 and I am looking forward to see all these ambitious young career astronaut candidates joining us for their first training at ESA's European Astronaut Centre in spring 2023, going forward to explore and shape space exploration," said Frank De Winne, head of the European Astronaut Centre, ESA's International Space Station program manager and a former ESA astronaut.


The European Space Agency (ESA) announced the 17 members of its 2022 astronaut class on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (ESA)

ESA's 2022 astronaut class includes three candidate categories: career (the first five), parastronaut and reserve. (ESA)

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