In Belgium, 1,019 people responded to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) call for astronaut candidates, of which 234 (or 23% of the Belgian applications) were women.
The agency received a total of 22,589 applications from all over Europe, according to the preliminary figures published on Wednesday, more than double the number they received during their last recruitment campaign in 2008 when over 8,000 people applied.
“The establishment of an astronaut reserve, alongside the selection of four staff astronauts and an astronaut with a physical disability, provides more opportunities for our applicants than ever before,” said ESA Director General, Josef Aschbacher, adding that the Agency wanted to attract a wide range of applicants.
“However, as can be seen from initial numbers, there is still huge competition for these coveted roles in space,” he said.
All applicants were required to have a master’s degree and a minimum of three years experience in natural sciences, medicine, engineering, mathematics or computer science.
Around 5,400 or 24% of all astronaut applicants identified as female, up from just 15.5% in 2008, whilst over 250 people, including ten from Belgium, applied for the newly-established astronaut with a physical disability vacancy.
The successful candidate for this role will work with ESA to determine the adaptations required for such an astronaut to serve as a professional crew member on a future space mission.
“It is pleasing to see an increase in the gender distribution of applicants to this astronaut selection, but the numbers also show there is more to be done to achieve gender balance in the space sector,” said ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, David Parker.
“Representing all parts of our society is a concern that we take very seriously,” he added.
In a recorded message addressing all future female candidates, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti said: “Don’t tell yourself that you are not good enough.”
Four to six astronauts are expected to be chosen, however, the announcement of who has been selected will only be made in late 2022 after the six stages of ESA’s selection process have been completed, which will take one and a half years.
During the next step, candidates will be screened based on the information they provided and will undergo a medical examination.