For the first time in more than 15 years, the European Space Agency is recruiting new astronauts to expand its staff for missions to the International Space Station. But Lisa Bryant reports from Paris that chances are remote that any new hires will be traveling to other parts of the universe.
Wanted: Young men and women with medical or scientific degrees and fluent in English to fly in space. If you are a citizen of the 17 European countries belonging to the European Space Agency, you might consider applying for a new job -- as an astronaut.
Starting Monday, the Paris-based space agency begins a recruitment process to increase its current staff of astronauts. It is the first time the agency has ever solicited candidates directly, by way of the Internet. It hopes to hire four or five people to replace its aging and dwindling astronaut staff. Agency spokesman Franco Bonacina says women are encouraged to apply.
"The ideal candidates would be between 27 and 37 years old. They should have university degrees and some years of experience alread," he said. "Candidates with military or airline pilot experience are also welcome because some the the astronauts have specific tasks - like piloting a shuttle or things like that."
The recruitment process is the first since 1992, and the agency expects to receive thousands of applications for the job. Bonacina says the winning candidates will be picked by mid-2009.
Then they face a year of general training at the agency's astronaut center in Cologne, Germany and another 18 to 24 months of special training for specific missions related to the International Space Station.
One of Europe's biggest contributions to the space station is an international laboratory, where astronauts will fulfill a variety of different scientific experiments. But Bonacina says dreams of going elsewhere in space are for the future.
"This generation of astronauts will mainly be concentrated on going and exploiting the International Space Station which is our main future for the next 10 years," he added. "But of course, the goal is also to start thinking about future missions - back to the moon for instance first, and then on to Mars."
Europeans interested in becoming astronauts should apply online on the space agency's website. The closing date for applications is June 15.