Esa whittles down list of would-be astronauts

350 Swiss men and women had been hoping to spend some time in space Reuters

Of 350 aspiring Swiss astronauts, along with thousands of other hopefuls who had sought to take part in Europe's astronaut programme, most have received bad news.

This content was published on August 11, 2008 minutes

The would-be space explorers were among 8,000 who had originally applied for one of eight spots in the European Space Agency (Esa) programme, according to former Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier.

On Monday, Esa told swissinfo that only 900 hopefuls remain in the race. They are undergoing psychological tests in the German city of Hamburg, set to finish at the end of this month.

One in five – around 180 men and women – will make it through to the next round, although Esa said it would not release names.

"I am very hopeful that there will be a Swiss among the eight future astronauts who are chosen in the end," Nicollier told Le Matin Dimanche newspaper.

"I will help the Swiss candidates who I know or who have asked me for help. But that's the only thing I can honestly do," he said.

Nicollier, a consultant with Esa, said he would be an expert for the third of the six-stage selection process, set to begin in September.


The countries that contribute the most money to Esa – mainly the Germans and the French – will heavily influence the final selection for astronauts Nicollier said.

"We should get to the end of the race with around 20 or 30 highly qualified candidates," he said. "After that, I cannot promise that the final selection will not be influenced by considerations of a political nature."

People between the ages of 27 and 37 from any of Esa's 17 member countries with scientific training were invited to apply for the spots. English and Russian speakers are at an advantage.

Esa will choose four astronauts and four alternates by the summer of 2009.

In April, Esa had held recruitment sessions at the Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich and Lausanne. The Swiss Space Office had expected up to 1,000 applications.

Civilian spacemen

Nicollier, who has completed four space missions, told Le Matin he supported the space tourism enterprise of British billionaire Richard Branson.

"Mr Branson sells dreams," he said. "I have lived the dream and hope everybody has the chance to see what I saw up there."

Branson's firm, Virgin Galactic, is set to rocket civilians into suborbital flight – just over 100,000 km – for $200,000 (SFr216,000) by 2010. The company, which has already received $30 million in bookings, should not expect to count on Nicollier as a paying customer.

"Mr Branson offers suborbital flights of a short duration. However, I have had the privilege of experiencing over 1,000 hours in orbit above the earth," he said.

swissinfo, Justin Häne


Citizens of one of the 17 member states of European Space Agency.

Age should allow for a professional career as an astronaut of at least 20 years.

A university degree in natural sciences, engineering or medicine. (Military or test pilots exempt).

At least three years of professional experience.

Ability to execute a wide range of professional duties and cope being away from home for long periods.

Medical certification (JARFCL3 Class 2), as required for private pilot licence in Europe.

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Switzerland in Space

Switzerland was one the founders of the European Space Agency.

The Swiss space industry includes 28 research institutes and 54 companies.

They specialise mostly in ground equipment, optical apparatuses, telecommunications systems, clocks, robotic machinery, microgravity research and weather surveillance.

Switzerland's Claude Nicollier is an astrophysicist, test pilot and astronaut.

He was the first foreigner granted mission specialist status by Nasa and completed four missions on board the space shuttle.

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