Image 2021 02 17 T11 42 05

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I'm an engineer - how can I become an astronaut?

James Kenealey Aerospace and Defence

Image 2021 02 17 T11 42 05

While it seems like an inaccessible dream, many people with jobs in engineering, particularly at an advanced level, might actually be qualified to go boldly where few have ever been before.

The European Space Agency is currently in the process of recruiting a new generation of astronauts. This is only the third time this has happened since 1978, with the most recent recruitment roll call being in 2008, when British former Army Air Corps officer Tim Peake beat over 8,000 applications to become the first British ESA astronaut and the sixth person born in the United Kingdom to go on board the International Space Station.

The European Space Agency, formed of 22 member states and 2 associate members, is a transnational space agency and nationals from all member states and associated states may apply to be an astronaut. The plan for 2021 is to recruit 4-6 in total.

What engineering skills and qualifications do you need to be an astronaut? What are the future plans for the European Space Agency? Many people who work in engineering at the moment may be qualified to be an astronaut and may not know it yet.

Qualifications to become an astronaut

Applicants require at least a Master’s degree in either a STEM subject, Natural Sciences, or computer science and have at least three years of professional experience after they graduate (lecturing, lab or field work or hospital experience). The ESA also look upon those with a PhD or additional Master’s the ones listed above as an asset.

If you don’t have a STEM Master’s degree, a degree as an Experimental Test Pilot or Engineer from an official institution would also be considered. This can include EPNER (France), ETPS (England), USAF TPS (US Air Force) and USNTPS (US Navy).

Astronaut duties also require intense physical exertion, so trainees must be willing to perform these as part of their training and duties. This includes swimming, underwater training to simulate weightlessness (for up to 8 hours per day) and other intense training activities.

The ESA is using this current recruitment process for a real push for diversity, stating that it wants to recruit someone with a disability for future missions. Dr David Parker, director of ESA’s robotics and human spaceflight programme, said:

“To be absolutely clear, we're not looking to hire a space tourist that happens also to have a disability. This individual would do a meaningful space mission. So, they would need to do the science; they would need to participate in all the normal operations of the International Space Station (ISS). This is not about tokenism. We have to be able to justify to all the people who fund us - which is everybody, including people who happen to be disabled - that what we're doing is somehow meaningful to everybody."

Skills

As well as being academically gifted, the chosen trainees on the programme will need to display certain other traits, including but limited to:

  • Working well as part of a multicultural, multidiscipline team

  • Calmness under pressure

  • Leadership

  • Strong analytical skills

  • Clear communication

  • Strong public speaking skills


In 2019, Morson met ISS astronaut Tim Peake, who discussed his inspiration for applying, and how his military background gave him the right skills for his training, which included learning a brand-new language in just a few months.

Future plans

The European Space Agency ultimately aims to travel further into space than we currently have, with the ultimate goal of a human presence on Mars. Their strategy involves the landmarks of low-earth orbit on the International Space Station, the Moon and then finally Mars. At each landmark, the ESA and its astronauts will work to further advance out knowledge of space and open up an exciting new chapter in engineering and space travel.

We don't recruit for astronauts ourselves, but we are the UK's leading aerospace and defence recruiter. Take a look at our latest roles here