Switzerland has its second astronaut


The lucky winners were presented at the ESA ceremony in Paris on Wednesday. In the center, with microphone, is Marco Sieber. Keystone / Mohammad Batra

44 years after Claude Nicollier, the European Space Agency (ESA) has selected Bernese Marco Sieber as astronaut. The 33-year-old urologist, a paratrooper sergeant in the Army, was one of five shortlisted (including two chosen) from around 23,000 applications from across the continent.

This content was published on November 24, 2022 – 14:09

RTS Information, Stephanie Jacquet and agencies

“It was intense and very surreal,” the rookie astronaut said of the moment he learned he was one of the five selected. “In 2014, I met a medical colleague who told me about applications to become an astronaut. I was waiting for the next exam to send mine,” he explained on the microphone of the forum at RTS La Premiere.

The position was highly sought after: ESA received 22,523 applications from all over Europe. Of these, 668 came from Switzerland, including 119 women and 549 men. Five people were selected after a long selection process.

Marco Sieber was a military pilot and astrophysicist Claude Nicolier, the only Swiss man in space, who spent more than a thousand hours. Vaudois, who joined ESA in 1978, made four flights with NASA’s space shuttle and specifically repaired the Hubble Space Telescope.

This “Class of 2022” of ESA astronauts succeeds the class of 2009, which includes Frenchman Thomas Pesquet; There were six people, including a woman from Italy, Samantha Cristoforetti.

A childhood dream

Marco Sieber is 33 years old and grew up in Emmental before moving to Bern. In a presentation video, he says he sent in his application because it was a childhood dream for him: “I believe every child has this attraction to space. I had books and was playing with my brother to build a rocket. This attraction never went away, but I forgot about it. But in recent years I have realized that becoming an astronaut, as a European citizen, is indeed possible.

He graduated in 2007 from the gymnasium in Berthoud in the canton of Bern. In 2009, Marco Sieber joined the Swiss Army’s Special Forces Commando training for paratroopers, where he was promoted to sergeant.

In 2015, he received his medical degree from the University of Bern. His doctoral thesis was on robotic surgery and he finished first in his promotion. In 2021, Marco Sieber graduated as a Specialist in Early Recovery and Emergency Medicine (SSMUS).

Apart from his mother tongues German and Swiss German, the new astronaut also speaks English and French. An emergency physician in Interlaken, Bern and Biel, he was also Suvisko’s chief medical officer in Kosovo for KFOR in 2018.

Marco Sieber holds a private pilot’s license and enjoys outdoor and adventure sports such as skydiving, paragliding, scuba diving, ski touring and kitesurfing. Being an astronaut is “a responsibility and an adventure” for him.

>> Marco Sieber introduces himself in an ESA video

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Two females and three males

The five named career astronauts are, in order of announcements, Sophie Adenot (France), Pablo Alvarez Fernandez (Spain), Rosemary Coogan (United Kingdom), Raphael Legios (Belgium, collaborating with the University of Geneva. EPFL) and Marco Sieber (Switzerland).

“The whole exam was difficult,” Swiss recalls. “We had to wait a long time not knowing how this was going to proceed.” But the most difficult for him, the same first exam, “computer tests, especially stressful and demanding. And many more interviews.

Before announcing the names, ESA’s Director General Joseph Aschbacher first recalled the qualities required for an astronaut’s mission: intellectual and manual intelligence, resistance to pressure and stress. But those who presented themselves were subjected to medical and psychological tests: “We need very special people,” he said.

Space for the ISS

Career astronauts will be among those initially invited to fly into orbit on the International Space Station (ISS) – with some slots for future lunar missions reserved for previous generations already in low orbit.

Marco Sieber believes that one day he will be able to work on the moon: “It is clear, it is a fascinating goal, but difficult to achieve because few astronauts can walk there”. As for Mars… “It’s a dream, but it’s still a few years away [avant les premières missions là-bas]”.

Training for the five ESA-selected officers will begin in April 2023 at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany.

First disabled astronaut

ESA will give a disabled person the opportunity to become an astronaut and fly into orbit. A first in the history of space exploration.

The project, christened “Paraastronaut,” was presented to the agency’s twenty-two member states this Wednesday, November 23. John McFall, a 41-year-old Paralympic sprinter from England, was selected for the project: “It was a very exciting experience because I never thought I could be an astronaut, having lost a leg and arm. So the excitement was a big emotion,” he says in a video on the ESA website.

At the start of its recruitment campaign, in February 2021, the company announced that it would open its doors to candidates with one or more lower leg disabilities due to amputation or congenital disability.

Are people below 1.30 meters tall or with leg asymmetry eligible? The intellectual and psychological skills required are the same as for other astronauts.

ESA’s budget is increasing

The European Space Agency also announced on Wednesday a budget of nearly 17 billion euros for the next three years.

After intense negotiations, the twenty-two member states gathered for two days in Paris and decided on an envelope of 16.9 billion euros, a 17% increase compared to the previous three years.

“Given the level of inflation, I am very impressed with this decision,” said ESA boss Joseph Aschbacher, who ruled that the budget voted during fierce competition was “necessary not to miss the train”. Especially Americans and Chinese.

This contribution will be developed for space exploration projects (2.7 billion euros), especially Earth observation projects to measure and monitor climate change (2.7 billion) or for space launch vehicles, especially the Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets (2.8 billion). .

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