ESA selects the Spanish Pablo Álvarez as an astronaut with the aim of going to the Moon

The Spanish aerospace engineer Pablo Álvarez Fernández, born in León in 1988, has been selected as a new astronaut for the European Space Agency (ESA). As reported by the agency, the new astronauts are joining with the prospect of participating in missions to the International Space Station in the second half of this decade and to the Moon in the following years.

Cancer researcher Sara García Alonso, also born in León in 1989, has also been selected as a reserve astronaut. The category of reserve astronaut means that she will not form part of ESA’s permanent staff but can be selected for specific missions.

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Pablo Álvarez joins ESA from the company Airbus Defense and Space, where he has had a close collaboration with the space agency. He has worked for three years on the construction of the Rosalind Franklin all-terrain vehicle, which will search for evidence of life in the subsoil of Mars. He is the third Spanish astronaut in history after Pedro Duque (who joined ESA in 1992) and Michael López-Alegría (who has dual Spanish and American nationality and joined NASA that same year).

Sara García Alonso, for her part, is a postdoctoral researcher at the National Cancer Research Center (CNIO) in Madrid, where she participates in a project to develop new drugs against lung and pancreatic cancers in the laboratory of Mariano Barbacid. It coincides that both Álvarez and García Alonso studied at the University of León.

They are part of the first generation of European astronauts to go beyond low Earth orbit

Álvarez and García Alonso have been selected among 22,523 candidates from 25 countries. Spain, with 1,341 applicants, of which 22% were women, was the fifth country with the most registered. The selection process has lasted a year and a half since the applicants submitted their candidacies in the spring of last year. It was the fourth time in ESA history that a new class of astronauts has been selected after those of 1978, 1992 and 2008.

Five staff astronauts (three men and two women) and eleven reserve astronauts (five men and six women) have been selected. “They are all astronauts”, stressed ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher, when introducing them.

Those on staff will immediately join the agency and begin their training at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne (Germany). In addition to the Spanish Pablo Álvarez, they are the French military pilot Sophie Adenot, the British astrophysicist Rosemary Coogan, the Belgian neuroscientist Raphaël Liégois and the Swiss doctor Marco Sieber.

ESA’s five new staff astronauts will join the agency’s seven currently active staff, all of whom were born in the 1970s and who will continue to participate in missions to the space station for years to come.

All seven will be over 50 when European astronauts begin lunar exploration missions later this decade or early next decade. ESA and NASA have already agreed that at least three European astronauts will travel to the future Gateway space station that is scheduled to be built in orbit around the Moon starting in 2028. One of the three could land on the lunar surface, although the Space agencies have not yet closed an agreement in this regard.

In this call, ESA has reserved for the first time a place for a person with a disability to join its astronaut staff. The British doctor and Paralympic athlete John McFall, who lost his right leg as a result of a motorcycle accident he suffered at the age of 19, has obtained the place.

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