Space 2.0: A spacefaring species

with Jennifer Ngo-Anh (ESA)

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Jennifer Ngo-Anh leads the Directorate of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA, the European Space Agency, where she is responsible for coordinating ESA's ground-based and space-based (e.g. International Space Station, ISS) science activities in the areas of human research, biology and physical sciences.

During the past year (2020-2021), we have heard a lot about ESA's new astronaut selection campaign. A very demanding career option, it's also one of the most fantasized about and iconic in popular culture. As technology evolves, so does human's capacity to stay up in space longer and longer; and more diverse profiles can hope to see their wish to orbit around earth become a reality. Not only for commercial initiatives that may turn space tourism a reality in the next future, but for the parastronaut program promoted by ESA - allowing mentally, scientifically, psychologically apt people to contribute to a space mission despite a physical disability in their lower limbs, as well as little people.

In short, the sky may not be the limit anymore. Deep space is. Maybe not even that. Curious about how all this is evolving, I have asked Jennifer about the selection program so far - deadlines have closed a month before we taped this interview - and what to expect next. She has been very generous with her time and with information. A list of the questions asked in the interview is found below.

Questions asked in this episode

00:23 During the past year, we have heard a lot about ESA's astronaut selection. The deadline was June 18, 2021, and this is late July that we're taping this interview. What can you tell us about the selection so far? How many applications you have received, etc.

02:14 How many astronauts will make it through the selection process, i.e. how many are you looking for?

04:18 How long is the selection process going to take?

04:52 What happens to the previous cohort? Are these astronauts going to replace them?

06:39 Besides the astronauts, are you hiring other types of figures at the moment? The reason for the question is that astronauts are like the rock stars, but there are large teams of people supporting the missions. Are you hiring a new cohort of those people, too?

08:48 How much time are the astronauts expected to spend in orbit? Is it true that the time spent in orbit increases with every generation of astronauts?

11:11 So, astronauts are expected to spend 6 months in orbit. Is this 6 months... at a time, or 6 months in total?

11:55 Do you think that soon we will see other types of figures being hired to travel to space, like tour guides, cleaning staff or a cook? Professions that support a larger variety of people visiting space, not only for scientific purposes.

14:18 How has the astronaut's job changed since 10 years ago... and also with respect to the 1960s and 1970s?

17:14 You have mentioned the ISS a number of times in this interview. Would you be so kind to define it for our audience, please? (International Space Station)
Jennifer also talks about the science that is conducted on board the ISS.

19:53 Can you mention some experiment that is done on the ISS and that has a practical application on earth?

22:22 The impact of space on the human body: are astronauts monitored both during the flight and after they come back to Earth?

23:30 Not all humans respond equally to the effects of space travel. This is to be expected. But is the range of responses notably great?

24:12 In the light of all we have said, would you say that being an astronaut is still a high risk career?

25:34 Space exploration is a collective effort. The ISS is an example of what we can achieve when we join forces. Yet, on Earth, it seems that nations have not overcome their differences and there are severe frictions especially on the political level. Why do you think that collaboration works so well in space?

27:50 Jennifer talks about the parastronaut program.

30:38 The selection campaign was designed to attract the largest possible number of people, "apply, apply, apply". Weren't you afraid that you would get a lot of applications from people who are not fit? What was the rationale behind this campaign design?

Page created: July 2021