For the first time in over a decade, the European Space Agency has announced it is looking for new astronauts.

It plans to recruit four and up to six career astronauts. It is also looking for up to 20 people to join a pool of reserve astronauts.

The space agency said it wants the next cohort of astronauts to be more diverse.

It is 11 years since the European Space Agency last recruited and this time it is strongly encouraging women to apply, as it tries to expand gender diversity.

The agency said representing all parts of society is something it takes very seriously.

The ESA is also launching the Parastronaut Feasibility Project for future astronauts with physical disabilities.

Applications will be accepted from 31 March until 28 May.

The six-stage selection process will then begin and is expected to be completed in October 2022.

The new astronauts are expected to take their first flights into space when they are deployed to the International Space Station.

They could also be part of the crew for future missions to the moon and if successful that could include the first Irish man or woman.

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Dundalk scientist Dr Niamh Shaw is hoping her application will be accepted.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, the Engineer and Communicator specialising in Space Activity, said it is an exciting time as the last recruitment drive was for the seven astronauts currently with the ESA.

Dr Shaw, who has two degrees in engineering and a PhD in science, said she would love to go to space as an equal member of a team.

However, her main aim and objective would be to have the experience so she could communicate and share it with as many women as possible.

If she was chosen, she said, she would most like to absorb the view of the earth from space and be able to reflect on that, which is a luxury that astronauts do not usually have.

Dr Shaw said she believes more women will apply this time and pointed out that NASA's recent recruitment of astronauts was 50% female and 50% male.

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While experience of the space sector is not essential, candidates will need a master's degree (or higher) and a minimum of three years' experience in natural sciences, medicine, engineering, mathematics or computer sciences.

Fluency in English is essential along with other requirements.

ESA is also issuing a special call for candidates with physical disabilities to apply to its astronaut reserve.

David Parker, ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, said diversity at the agency "should not only address the origin, age, background or gender of our astronauts, but also perhaps physical disabilities.

"To make this dream a reality, alongside the astronaut recruitment I am launching the Parastronaut Feasibility Project an innovation whose time has come."


Listen to an interview with Norah Patten, faculty member at the International Space University, who will be applying for the job

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