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Six future astronauts certified from European Space Agency's 2022 graduating class
Six future astronauts certified from European Space Agency's 2022 graduating class
by Chris Benson
Washington DC (UPI) Apr 22, 2024

Six new recruits of the European Space Agency on Monday got to be the latest round of fully qualified astronauts now eligible for space missions, including a woman from Australia.

At a ceremony near Cologne in Germany's state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the five European and one Australian astronaut recruits got their certifications to mark their transition to be fully qualified astronauts now eligible for space missions.

Sophie Adenot of France, Pablo Álvarez Fernández of Spain, Rosemary Coogan from Britain, Raphaël Liégeois of Belgium, and Marco Sieber of Switzerland joined Australian Space Agency candidate Katherine Bennell-Pegg -- on track to be Australia's first woman in space -- who wrapped-up their year-long basic training culminating in Monday's ceremony.

They were picked from a "remarkable" pool of 22,500 astronaut applicants across Europe. The ESA astronaut class of November 2022 had 17 individuals which included the five astronaut candidates, and 12 members in the European astronaut reserve.

Their training begin April of last year at their arrival to the European Astronaut Center near Cologne, where they took part in training programs that included spacecraft systems, spacewalks, flight engineering, robotics, life support systems, survival, and medical training.

Last Wednesday ahead of Monday's ceremony, the ESA Director General took note of how in 2020 the agency had for the first time since 2008, "decided to open a new call for a Europe-wide astronaut selection."

"This decision was crucial to preserve European knowhow for training astronauts in Europe -- a key capacity for our future in space exploration," said Josef Aschbacher.

On Monday, Aschbacher congratulated the new class by noting it now brings the number of ESA astronauts to a total of 11 from eight European countries. During the ceremony, he acknowledged it was "a challenging year" and said it was "a large effort."

"Thanks to this enlarged family, we are ensuring both our long-term participation in key programs," he said on social medial about the Artemis program and the ISS.

It was called "A great day for Europe in space" earlier on Monday by Anne-Sophie Bradelle, ESA's chief of communications.

Now that the new set of astronauts have been certified, they will begin steps toward their first missions on the International Space Station or other space trips although it's currently unclear when that will be but plans are in the works.

But Aschbacher said their first mission will not be before the year 2026.

Fellow ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer took to social media Monday morning to congratulate his new colleagues.

"A new chapter of European space exploration unfolds, heralding a fresh era for" the European Space Agency, he said on X.

"Their incredible teamwork showcases the possibilities of EAC as Europe's premier astronaut training hub," wrote Maurer, who recently completed a 175-day mission on the International Space Station.

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