How does one become an astronaut?
Who, as a child, has not answered the question, “What do you want to be, when you grow up?” with “an astronaut!”?
The idea of flying free like a bird and exploring space has fascinated mankind always, however behind the profession of an astronaut there are also difficulties to tackle and risks to face.
Are you obstinate, and still want to fly into space? … well it will not be an easy task!
First of all you will have to deal with a cutthroat competition: at the last selections of EAC (European Astronaut Centre) of ESA, 22,000 candidates sent their application. Approximately 5,000 qualified well, but to date only 9 persons are official members of the European Astronaut Corps . What makes them so special?
First of all experience: about half of the astronauts began their career in aviation, accumulating a consistent number of flying hours, and studying subjects such as aerospace engineering or science.
The other half of the astronauts consists mainly of physicists who work, or have worked at top level research centres. A small part has experience in the medical field, with a great interest in the subject of air and space.
And determination and motivation must not be lacking: astronauts are not superman, rather, they must show they have a level of patience that is higher than the standard. For every hour spent in space, they must face hundreds or thousands of hours of training. Each astronaut must also face different inconveniences connected with life in space. In conditions of microgravity, there are physical problems that arise, and there are feelings which are not related to our reality, that may occur: rapid and discontinuous movements of the eyes, a stunned condition, dizziness, vertigo. Motor activities such as a simply walking can become a real challenge.
More than half of the astronauts are affected by the so-called “space adaptation syndrome” or “space motion sickness”. The symptoms include restlessness, sleepiness, disorientation, sweating, headache, loss of appetite and sudden nausea. Furthermore long periods of time spent in conditions of microgravity lead to a progressive loss of bone mass, with a high risk of osteoporosis. When they return to the Earth, the astronauts, with training and healthcare, recover their physical conditions, but to date it is not clear if there is there is a return to the initial conditions, or if some deficit remains. Therefore if you have the suited requisites, the courage and determination to face the difficulties well, you are the right one for take off!