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The European Space Agency has launched a lively campaign to recruit talented new astronauts for future missions to the International Space Station, the Moon and possibly beyond.
ESA hopes to inject some young blood into its astronaut corps. Currently Europe has only eight astronauts, with an average age of 50. The agency wants to recruit four more, ideally aged 27 to 37.
"If we have a Moon programme and if Europe commits to participating in that, I anticipate that one of those who we are selecting now will walk on the Moon," says Gerhard Thiele, head of ESA's astronaut corps.
On Thursday, ESA held a press conference at London's Science Museum to kick off the recruitment campaign in the UK. Alan Thirkettle, ESA's programme manager for the space station, said the "inspirational" astronaut programme aims to drive technological development and economic competitiveness across the continent.
'Icons for inspiration'
"We want the youth of Europe to be interested in science, mathematics and engineering, and go into these careers whether it's in space or not," he said. "The astronauts are a focal point – they're icons for that inspiration."
The agency will target two key types of candidate. One is scientists and engineers; the other is pilots who fly sophisticated jet aircraft. Successful applicants must also have various personality traits, including high motivation and gregariousness.