The European Space Agency wants to make space accessible for more people as it begins recruiting for a new astronaut class in 2021.
In what it calls a first for human spaceflight worldwide, ESA said in a statement it is looking for “individual(s) who are psychologically, cognitively, technically and professionally qualified to be an astronaut, but have a physical disability that would normally prevent them from being selected due to the requirements imposed by the use of current space hardware.”
ESA is pledging to invest in hardware adaptations as part of its parastronaut feasibility project. The agency hopes this push will encourage people with functional limitations to also apply for other ESA and space jobs.
The feasibility project has a narrow scope at the moment. Applicants must meet all the standard qualifications for an ESA astronaut, but the project opens recruiting up to persons with certain lower limb or leg issues as well as people of short stature under 4.3 feet (1.3 meters) tall.
Calls for new astronauts are rare for ESA. The last time it opened recruiting was back in 2008. Through a 2021-22 selection process, ESA intends to add four to six new astronauts to its ranks. The European Astronaut Corps currently has seven active members.
The application process starts on March 31 for nationals of ESA member states and associated member states. Potential candidates can find out more through ESA’s astronaut selection site.
“There are many unknowns ahead of us,” ESA said. “The only promise we can make today is one of a serious, dedicated and honest attempt to clear the path to space for an astronaut with disability.”