Do you dream of going to space?
In 2021 Haritina Mogosanu applied to be an astronaut at the European Space Agency (ESA). Read her story below.
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A few years ago I had the opportunity to host astronaut Yvonne Cagle in New Zealand. I learned many things from her but 2 in particular stuck with me. One is about resilience: when you get stuck, pivot and look at the issue with different eyes, find another way to solve it. The other is the word impossible, which by adding a few spaces and an apostrophe makes “I’m possible”.
Last year I got to use both these things.
I am an analog astronaut, I trained for Mars since 2011 but on Earth, in Utah and I always thought that was as close as I'll ever be to being a real astronaut. Now I was one step closer to the “what if”.
The European Space Agency is recruiting for astronauts and imagine my joy when I got a letter from them inviting me to the second phase of recruiting, the test in Hamburg, in November 2021. I am a New Zealander but also a Romanian so I could apply for the job, which I did. I think this is the most important thing about everything we do in life, if an opportunity shows, have the courage and put yourself out there. Just like me, 23,307 applicants put themselves out there.
Out of these, 5.8%, that is 1391 people including myself, made it to the phase 2 selection that focused on psychological performance and included cognitive, technical, motor coordination and personality tests. We were all invited to Hamburg, and flown there by the ESA. We had 21 days since the lucky email arrived to sort out our travel availability, train every evening, go to work every day and deal with everything else you have to deal with preparing for a trip like that. I had to make sure I was not catching any COVID-19 either as I would not have been able to come back to New Zealand. For me it also meant that I had to be away from my family for 2 months as my quarantine spot was only on the 22 of December but I was happy to do that. I was really lucky that I just had my second vaccine so I was all good to go.
In Hamburg, my test group was about 30 people split into 2 classrooms, and we had a few days to meet each other as we stayed at the same hotel, and also meet the people who came there before and after us. What I found absolutely amazing was that we all got along very well. We were supposed to compete against each other, yet it was an extraordinary sense of camaraderie between us. We stay in touch on Whatsapp and still talk to each other. There were test pilots, doctors, aerospace engineers, biologists, one astronomer, and a few software engineers in my group. There was someone who works at SpaceX in the US and I was the only science communicator/ astrobiologist in our group.
If I didn’t have an engineering degree and a solid STEM education, I would probably not have made sense of much of the information I had to go through at the test. But it is so much more than that. We all agreed that it is also very important to be kind, and look after each other. The 4 astronauts I’ve met up until now have a really amazing presence but what struck me every time was how kind they were. Preparing for the tests was an amazing experience that pushed me way beyond anything I thought I would be capable of doing. In a nutshell, it all comes down to motivation, which is why I’m always saying we should all have jobs we love (I love what I do currently as well by the way, I think that’s why I was selected as well).
39% of the 1391 people were women, which is a great number to see. I loved being there and meeting everyone and I wish I had more time to spend with these people.
For successful candidates, this will be followed by the next phase, which is a set of psychological interviews and group tests before medical testing.
As Yvonne, said, nothing is impossible it just depends on how you are looking at it. This was a life changing experience for me and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Note: Only applicants from ESA member or associate member countries are eligible to apply.
Update — unfortunately Hari didn’t make it to the next stage but she says she learnt so much through the whole experience and would recommend anyone who is eligible to give it a go.