“ESA is looking for individual(s) who are psychologically, cognitively, technically and professionally qualified to be an astronaut,” the agency stated at the time.
Speaking to Reuters, ESA head Josef Aschbacher says that applications have closed and the number of candidates far exceeds those of previous years. In short, Aschbacher hopes future parastronauts are among the 22,000 applicants, and that ESA will become the first space agency to show that “space is everyone.”
Aschbacher also speaks of the need for ESA to catch up with NASA and privately-funded agencies like Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX in terms of launches and missions. In July this year, Bezos will become the first man to send himself to space on his own rocket, so competition in this space is fierce. ESA is clearly determined to compensate through inclusion for what the U.S. has in terms of in financial resources.
ESA is putting its money where its mouth is, too, pledging €1 million ($1.2 million) to the initiative to launch the first parastronaut. However, allowing applications is just the first step in the process: ESA notes that hiring a physically disabled astronaut doesn’t mean that he or she will go to space. This process will take time, but at least the door is open.