Europe’s next astronauts train in Cologne before heading into orbit

A new cohort of astronauts at the European Space Agency's training centre in Cologne can expect to see time in both the pool and the classroom as they get ready to head into orbit.

Europe's next astronauts train in Cologne before heading into orbit
This photo released by NASA shows German astronaut Matthias Maurer and US astronaut Raja Chari performing maintenance work on an away mission at the ISS in 2022. The two also received training at the European Space Centre. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/NASA | Heidi Lavelle

Trainees dive into the water to emulate the experience of working in zero gravity, as well as studying a variety of subjects from medicine to geology.

The aim of the curriculum is to prepare the group for service on the International Space Station (ISS) and later on a potential mission to the moon.

READ ALSO: German astronaut lands safely back on Earth

“The biggest challenge is to learn so many different things in a very short period of time,” British astronaut Rosemary Coogan, 31, told AFP in an interview.

Along with four other hopefuls, Coogan in April began the 13-month course and will have finished by May 2024.

By then, the group will know who among them will be the first to climb aboard the low-orbit station in 2026.

For French candidate Sophie Adenot, 40, the “variety of the training” is part of the pleasure.

“It is everything from theoretical science to operational training. I am astounded by everything we have done in the last month,” she told AFP.

Graduates from the course could be headed for the moon, in the scope of the Artemis mission, which hopes to return astronauts to the rock within a decade and to establish a permanent base on Earth’s natural satellite.

European Space Agency

An astronaut wearing a uniform with the official European Space Agency logo. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

Woman on the moon

The current cohort of astronauts includes the highest number of women to date after a push by the ESA to make space travel less masculine.

The agency encouraged more women to apply for the opportunity to go to space. In all, almost a quarter of candidates in 2021 were women, up from 15 percent in the last round in 2008.

“More than just having women in the team, what is important is diverse backgrounds and professions,” said Adenot.

READ ALSO: One of these women could be Germany’s first female astronaut

“A doctor will have a different way of thinking than an engineer or a pilot… it’s important to have various ways of thinking in the team,” she said.

Adenot, herself a helicopter test pilot, is joined in the group by Swiss doctor Marco Sieber, Belgian neuroscientist Raphael Liegeois and Spanish aeronautical engineer Pablo Alvarez Fernandez.

In addition to the five candidates, the ESA has also appointed a “parastronaut” — an astronaut with a handicap — 41-year-old Briton John McFall, who will take part in the training.

McFall’s presence will allow the ESA to study the feasibility of sending an astronaut with greater physical limitations into space.

Pool time

The training course seeks to prepare the future astronauts for any situation they could be confronted with in space.

In the pool, 10 metres underwater, the team practice what to do if a colleague falls ill in space and how to communicate with them.

“Astronauts have to have a very sound judgement,” said Coogan.

“When you get to space, there are often very unpredictable things and it can be to do with your day-to-day activities or an emergency situation. And that’s where you need to stay calm.”

After 13 months of training, only the candidate chosen to go to the ISS will begin a separate two-year programme tailored to the mission.

Despite the limited space onboard the rocket, the team at the ESA work well together.

“We are like a team of highly trained athletes. The demands of space missions are so high that you can only match them by working together,” said Adenot.

“When one of us is selected for a mission, whether it is on the International Space Station or the moon, we will all be behind them.”

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Major Taiwanese company to train German students for semiconductor careers

Germany's Saxony state signed an agreement with Taiwanese chip giant TSMC on Tuesday to train German students in an effort to meet the growing demand for workers in the semiconductor sector.

Major Taiwanese company to train German students for semiconductor careers

A shortage of skilled workers including in the crucial chip sector has emerged as a major challenge for Germany, Europe’s largest economy, as vast cohorts of older employees retire.

Last month, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company — which controls more than half of the world’s chip output — announced a new $3.8 billion chip factory in Saxony’s capital Dresden.

READ ALSO:¬†How east Germany’s Dresden gave birth to ‘Silicon Saxony’

The agreement, signed between TSMC, Saxony and the Dresden University of Technology (TU Dresden) “is specifically designed to train German STEM students for careers in the semiconductor industry”, the Taiwanese firm said in a statement.

Up to 100 high-achieving students from the state will come to Taiwan for a six-month exchange programme and “collaborate with Taiwan’s top universities”, it added.

The first students are expected in February 2024, according to TSMC.

Market research has shown a demand for more than one million skilled workers in the chip industry, said Lora Ho, TSMC’s senior vice president of human resources.

“We are preparing in advance for the shortage of talents that may come shortly and strengthening semiconductor education is the most critical way to resolve the global shortage of technical talents.”

Construction of TSMC’s Dresden facility, which will be focused on automotive chips, is scheduled to begin next year, with production starting by the end of 2027.

It is expected to create around 2,000 direct high-tech jobs.

“We know companies from the semiconductor field (are) facing problems with finding enough talents,” Sebastian Gemkow, Saxony’s State Minister for Science, told AFP.

“That’s why we started very early to structure this process so TSMC and later ESMC will have all the employees that it needs,” he said, referring to the European Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

READ ALSO: Germany gets Taiwan chip giant TSMC’s first European plant

ESMC is a joint venture between TSMC, Germany’s Bosch and Infineon, and Dutch firm NXP that will¬† build the Dresden plant.

TSMC’s production has expanded beyond Taiwan as Western powers lines have raised concerns about the chip industry — critical for the modern global economy — being centred on an island that China claims as its territory.

Beijing has ramped up political and military pressure on the island in recent years, adding to fears about the global semiconductor supply chain.