British astronauts may hit cash barrier in EU space programme

British candidates may be blocked from applying to the European Space Agency due to UK government position on funding human spaceflight

You must have an excellent memory, concentration and reasoning abilities, as well as good spatial sense and manual dexterity. You must be competent in biology, chemistry, physics and medicine, or be an engineer or pilot - preferably the whole lot. Oh, and speaking Russian would be a bonus.

These are the requirements for one of the most sought after careers on the planet: the chance to go into space. The European Space Agency has announced that from May it will be recruiting a new cohort of astronauts. But although the ESA has said it will consider applications from all 27 EU states, unless the UK government changes its position on funding human spaceflight any British applicant selected would be blocked from beginning the training.

"If you get selected and you are from a state that doesn't sign up then your country has to be make an official cost based decision on do we join, don't we join," said Dr Kevin Fong, co-director of the Centre for Aviation, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine at University College London. He has trained and carried out research with Nasa and is one of Britain's best hopes in the selection process. "Governments can fox around the issue ... but if you have got a selected astronaut then you have got to make a decision." He said he would be applying.

Only seven ESA member states are signed up to the human spaceflight aspect of ESA's budget and Britain is not one of them. It is not clear how far ESA will allow people from states who do not contribute to go in the application process, the latter stages of which are extremely expensive.

Asked what would happen if a British candidate was successful, a spokesman for the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the public science funding organisation that contributes to the ESA, said: "It would be up to ESA whether they reject Brits on account of whether the member state was participating in the manned space programme."

Michel Tognini, a former astronaut and head of the European Astronaut Centre, said applications would open on May 19.

· This article was amended on Wednesday April 23 2008. The European Union has 27 member states, not 17 as we said in the article above. This has been corrected.


James Randerson, science correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Astronauts' eyeballs deformed by long missions in space, study finds

Flattening at the back of their eyes may be caused by increased pressure of cerebrospinal fluid in microgravity

Ian Sample, science correspondent

13, Mar, 2012 @7:00 AM

Britons in race for place in space

British hopefuls submit nearly one in 10 of applications to European Space Agency in bid to become astronaut

Ian Sample, science correspondent

24, Jun, 2008 @11:01 PM

Article image
Mars mission in a Moscow hangar is no joke, say astronauts

The 520-day simulated journey will provide invaluable data for a real trip, European Space Agency announces

Luke Harding in Moscow

03, Jun, 2010 @5:45 PM

Article image
Broadband expansion could trigger dangerous surge in space junk
Increase in orbital traffic from thousands of communications satellites could lead to 50% rise in catastrophic crashes, says study

Damien Gayle and agency

18, Apr, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
Faulty helmet forces ISS astronauts to abort spacewalk
Nasa orders astronauts Luca Parmitano and Chris Cassidy to halt spacewalk after Parmitano detected water in his helmet

Ian Sample, science correspondent

16, Jul, 2013 @3:25 PM

Article image
Wanted: Britons to go into space

Officials from the European Space Agency arrive in Britain on a recruitment drive for new blood

Ian Sample, science correspondent

09, May, 2008 @1:50 PM

Wanted: Astronauts

The European Space Agency is looking for new astronauts. Do you have the right stuff?

James Randerson

14, Apr, 2008 @4:10 PM

Article image
Tim Peake prepares to run London Marathon in space
With no hot bath to ease his post-race muscles the astronaut will make do with warm water and wipes, but says he’s feeling good ahead of Sunday’s marathon

Ian Sample Science editor

20, Apr, 2016 @5:04 PM

Article image
Is the UK about to have liftoff in the global space industry?
With plans for satellite launches and investment in space-based solar, can the UK become a space super power?

Zahaan Bharmal

31, Dec, 2020 @2:51 PM

Article image
UK government to invest extra £300m in space science research
The chancellor George Osborne has outlined eight areas of technology in which he wants the UK to become a world leader

Alok Jha, science correspondent

09, Nov, 2012 @3:19 PM