Associated Press Writer
PARIS—The European Space Agency introduced six newly recruited astronauts Wednesday, the first new hires by the agency's manned spaceflight program in almost two decades.
The group, whose members come from five European nations, will be trained for missions to the International Space Station and, later, to the moon, said Simonetta di Pippo, the agency's Director of Human Spaceflight.
"They have a fantastic career ahead, which will put them right on top of one of the ultimate challenges of our time — going back to the moon and beyond as part of the global exploration effort," di Pippo told journalists at a news conference in Paris.
Those selected were Timothy Peake, 37, a helicopter test pilot for the British military; Thomas Pesquet, 31, a French engineer and commercial pilot; Alexander Gerst, 33, a German geophysicist; Andreas Mogensen, 32, a Danish aerospace engineer; Luca Parmitano, 32, a test pilot for the Italian Air Force; and Samantha Cristoforetti, 32, a fighter pilot in the Italian Air Force and the group's sole woman.
Giddy and smiling, the six said they were thrilled at the chance to fulfill what each called a lifelong dream.
"Up until yesterday, I had the second-best job in the world," said Cristoforetti. Now, she said, she has the best.
The recruits were selected from more than 8,400 scientists, engineers and pilots who responded to the agency's call for applications last April. Those chosen were the only ones to survive a yearlong battery of medical screenings, psychological and cognitive tests and interviews. They join the eight astronauts already working for the agency.
The recruits are scheduled to begin training in September, and their earliest space missions are expected in 2013, the agency said.
"Five hundred years ago, I would have liked to be on those boats that sailed towards America," said Parmitano, the Italian test pilot. "Today, I am embarking on a much bigger exploration."
Gerst, the German geophysicist, said his passion for the cosmos had been inspired by his grandfather, an amateur radio aficionado.
"He directed the antenna to the moon and transmitted my words," said Gerst. "It felt like a part of myself was in space."