More than a year ago, the European Space Agency announced that, for the first time in more than a decade, it would select new astronauts. It is a devilish process in which thousands of people show up, yes; but only 6% have any chance of being selected. In this specific case, ESA received more than 22,500 valid applications.
Today it has been made public the name of the selected. There are two Spaniards.
Spaniards in space. Until now, the only Spaniard who had been part of the ESA program was Pedro Duque, who was part of the program between 1992 and 2006. During that time, Duque traveled into space twice: once in 1998 and another in 2006. Before he, Miguel López-Alegría (born in Spain, but raised in the United States) had traveled into space with NASA.
The owner: Pablo Álvarez Fernández. Born in León in 1988, Álvarez is an aeronautical engineer from the University of León and has a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Warsaw Polytechnic. Between 2011 and 2017, he worked as a structural engineer for different aerospace companies. And, in recent years, he has worked on the ExoMars mechanical architecture, the rover being prepared at Airbus, and other international projects. He will be the “main astronaut” and as explained by the director of ESA, Josef Aschbacher, he has many options to go into space on a future mission.
The reservist: Sara García Alonso. García was also born in León, but in 1989. She graduated in Biotechnology from the University of León, she did her doctoral thesis at the Salamanca Cancer Research Center. Since 2019, she has been working as a postdoctoral researcher at the National Cancer Research Center (CNIO) where she leads an experimental oncology and drug discovery project in the laboratory of Mariano Barbacid. Garcia will be a “reserve astronaut” and will continue with her current job.
ESA prepares for the new space age that has already begun. The disconnection with Russia, the arrival of more and more private actors in space and the launch of Artemis, mark the beginning of a new era of space exploration. An era in which Agencies have to rethink their role if they do not want to be left behind in an increasingly complicated race. At ESA they are aware of this and have been preparing for it for years. This program is part of the drive to bring the agency closer to society.