MADRID – Last week the European space agency ESA presented its new batch of astronauts. This list includes two Spaniards who will follow the rigorous training program over the coming years.
It was the first time since 2009 that the ESA has appointed new astronauts. A total of 22,523 interested parties had registered for this, of which 1,300 came from Spain. The ESA Interministerial Council has assembled a team of five regular astronauts from this gigantic number. In addition, eleven reserve astronauts have been appointed. At the meeting of the ESA last week in Paris, the sixteen chosen ones presented themselves. On Twitter both received congratulations from the Spanish Royal House.
La Agencia Espacial Europea vuelve a tener astronautas españoles, un gran ejemplo de lo alto que es capaz de llegar nuestro talento.
— Casa de S.M. el Rey (@CasaReal) November 23, 2022
Who are these two Spaniards?
Pablo Álvarez Fernández is a member of the team of five permanent astronauts. He was born in 1988 in Leon. Álvarez is an aeronautical engineer at the University of León. In addition, he holds a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Polytechnic University of Varsovia.
He stated that he has a ‘European heart’ during his presentation, having worked in Poland, France and England. Furthermore, he has also contributed as a structural engineer to various aviation projects at Airbus, both in Spain and France. Through all these experiences he speaks English, Polish and French in addition to Spanish.
Sara García Alonso is on the reserve list. She also comes from León and was born in 1989. García is a biotechnician and has a master’s degree in biotechnology from the University of León. She has a PhD from the Centre for Cancer Research in Salamanca. She currently works at the largest Spanish national cancer research centre CNIO. She is involved in various investigations there.
Whether García will go into space is still uncertain. She is a replacement in case one of the regular astronauts falls out. It also depends on the number of missions that the ESA will carry out in the coming years. That may be too many for the five of the core team.
Years of training
Before the astronauts are ready to accept space travel, they will have to undergo very extensive and tough training. They will also have to get used to weightlessness and working in a spacesuit.
So far, only two Spaniards have made space travel before. The first is Pedro Duque, also a former Minister of Science and Innovation. Duque has been to space as an ESA astronaut twice. In 1998 that was with the American Shuttle and in 2003 with the Russian Soyuz.
The second is Michael López-Alegría. Although López was born in Spain, he had American nationality. That is why he was employed by the American space agency NASA. However, during his last space trip, he wore the Spanish flag on his space suit. He was then the leader of Axiom-1, the first private mission to the International Space Station.
A Spaniard on the moon?
The new ESA astronauts will regularly travel to the ISS. But in addition, they are all cautiously thinking about a trip to the moon. NASA is currently conducting an unmanned flight to the moon, the Artemis mission. This is a test for a possible manned flight. It is hoped that the American space agency will also choose European astronauts for these manned missions. The ESA is an important member of the Artemis program. The ESA is also participating in the construction of the Gateway space station. This satellite will orbit the moon.
The first astronaut with a disability
For the first time in history, a space agency has named an astronaut with a disability. It’s the Briton, John McFall. McFall lost his lower leg in a car accident. However, that has not hindered him in his sports career. The Brit participated in the Paralympic Games, and is now part of the permanent team of astronauts.
A world first 👨🚀
— ParalympicsGB (@ParalympicsGB) November 23, 2022