For men, it can go very high. For many there is therefore only one Dream job – astronaut. If you are serious, you need a degree in science and the necessary luck: specialists are not in demand every day, and all those who have completed the preparatory program, which lasts for several years, does not fly directly in the space. But man will always have the right to dream.
Ulrich Walter didn’t really expect to be chosen from among nearly 1,800 candidates to fly into space. In 1993, the physicist went into orbit around the Earth on board the space shuttle “Columbia” to conduct scientific experiments in space. It wasn’t just the weightlessness that captivated him. “The view on land is magnificent. Whenever I had a little time I would look out the window, ”says Walter. Today, the 59-year-old is a professor of space technology at the Technical University of Munich.
There were 530 people in space in the world
Ulrich Walter is one of ten Germans who have flown in space to date. There are approximately 530 people in the world. Anyone who wants to become a space traveler has a rocky road ahead of them. “Astronauts need to have a solid background in the natural sciences,” says Volker Kratzenberg-Annies.
He is responsible for promoting young talents at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). For example, studying aerospace physics or engineering is a good thing. Medicines have also been selected. Anyone who achieves above-average performance in such a study program has met the first requirement.
Then aspiring specialists need a little luck. The European Space Agency (ESA) only hires astronauts every few years. The last time was in 2008. The next date has not yet been set.
Teamwork is extremely important
We are looking for excellent scientists who are not only in good physical shape but also able to work as a team. “On the International Space Station, an astronaut lives in a confined space with five others for six months. No one can even go out, ”says Kratzenberg-Annies. In addition, ESA staff paid attention to focus, responsiveness and technical skills.
In the multistep application process, they also always have an eye on the tasks that future space travelers will have to accomplish later in space: “The purpose of space missions is to conduct scientific experiments that cannot to take place due to gravity on Earth, “says Kratzenberg-Annies. In addition, they must maintain the International Space Station. Out of 8,500 applicants, only 6 were selected in 2008 – including a woman.
Knowledge of Russian is compulsory
Those who are chosen have a difficult training ahead of them. There is usually at least four and a half years between hiring and flying, says Hans Bolender, who heads the training department at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne. The training is divided into three phases. “The basics are laid in the first 18 months. It starts with introductions to several scientific disciplines, in which subsequent experiments in space are conducted, ”he says. Meanwhile, future space travelers are also expected to acquire skills in Russian – along with English it is the official language of the ISS. Diving lessons are also on the schedule, as the astronauts later prepare for outboard operations underwater in a spacesuit.
The underwater exercises themselves are part of advanced training. During this time, the astronauts are also psychologically prepared for long-term flight. “At some point, what all astronauts are waiting for will come: the nomination for a space flight,” says Bolender. The nominees then get to know all the details of the ISS, face extreme situations in simulations, and try out the experiments they are supposed to conduct in space.
The profession is not trivial. When the atmosphere returned, the shuttles and their occupants had already burned down. A space shuttle exploded after taking off. So-called Space Walks can be tricky too: Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano recently complained about an open-air mission over water in a helmet, so the action had to be stopped . >>
Weightlessness is also a problem for some early space travelers – nausea and disorientation are just a few of the side effects. At night, space travelers are wrapped in sleeping bags and tied to a mat so they don’t fly away.
Astronauts are paid on average
However, it is wrong to say that astronauts would be paid a princely royalty. “Astronaut salaries are the same as normal salaries for scientists in the public sector,” says Bolender. You don’t become a space traveler because of the salary, but because of the vocation. However, there is only one thing that astronauts can complain about: the food. “This pasta in aluminum tubes has long since ceased to exist. Strangely enough, this rumor persists”, explains Ulrich Walter. There is now a large selection of packaged meals available. Space travelers decide what they want to eat during their time in space during a test meal well in advance of departure. However, the sense of taste changes in space, explains Walter. Because you can’t taste that good, you need more spicy food. His experience: “The spicy NASA shrimp tasted good, the scrambled eggs were really bad.”