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Space firm seeks Germany's first female astronaut

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Could a woman's face soon be behind this visor? Photo: DPA
16:36 CET+01:00
For hundreds of years, men have kept the job of colonising planet Earth and beyond for themselves, but Claudia Kessler has had enough: the CEO of HE Space is looking for the first German female astronaut.

Ever since the time of Neil Armstrong, males felt like a men's world wasn't big enough for them. They wanted a men's universe.

But to Claudia Kessler, that's too much testosterone even for outer space. She's pushing to get more female energy out among the planets.

The CEO of HE Space, a human resources firm for air and space travel specialists, has recently launched the campaign "Astronautin" (female astronaut), in which they are looking for a German lady to blast off for the final frontier.

Though the German Association for Air and Space Travel (DLR) has been around for over 100 years, only 11 men from Germany have left planet Earth. That's right: men. Not a single woman has been able to make the trip.

That's why to Kessler "the 12th German human to go should be a woman."

She explained the lack of females in the field in an interview with The Local, saying that "the last time the ESA (European Space Agency) put out a job offering, 1,700 European women applied; that's 15 percent of the overall applicants. Only one of them [Italian astronaut Sam Cristoforetti] made it on the team."

Breaking through the space ceiling

With no prospect of a new project from the ESA, HE Space decided to take matters into their own hands. But the road to a rocket launch is long and rocky.

Claudia Kessler, the CEO of German company HE Space; Photo: DPA

The company is expecting between 500 and 1,000 candidates to shoot for the stars.

Though the selection procedure is privately organised, it's in no way easier than the ESA version.

The company requires applicants to have a degree in medical or natural sciences plus three years of work experience; they want them to be athletic, adventurous and preferably experienced with unusual hobbies such as rock climbing or spelunking.

Then the lucky ones will be examined by two commissions and undergo medical and psychological testing. The two very best ones will go on to the Russian Yuri-Gagarin training centre, and only one of them will be launched into space.

And here's the twist: The CEO is estimating the project to cost several tens of millions of Euros, which they are planning to provide for only through crowdfunding and sponsor's donations. 

Why women matter

Despite the tough financial situation and lengthy selection process, the ordeal is worth its while, Kessler says: women contribute to space missions in a way men can't.

"I think they will be able to pick up the emotional aspects of it more so than men could, how vulnerable our planet seems from afar and how all our conflicts and wars seem senseless in the face of that," Kessler told The Local.

"So far there is not enough data about the physiology of female astronauts", adds Hanns-Christian Gunga, managing director of the Institute of Physiology at Berlin's Charité hospital, which is cooperating in the project.

This mission ought to shed light on how women's bodies react in the conditions of outer space, regarding the cardiovascular system, musculature and body temperature.

Most of all, Claudia Kessler feels a duty to female students in Germany and wants to provide a role model for them.

She herself was once a 4-year-old watching the first landing on the moon and decided that planet Earth wasn't big enough for her.

Her critique is that on a large scale, German educational culture doesn't encourage girls to become physicists or mathematicians.

And, disregarding the current Chancellor (Angela Merkel is a former research scientist), she's right.

According to statistics from the German Student Union (DWS), natural sciences is one of the areas least popular with girls during tertiary education; only 16% chose it between 1991 and 2012 as opposed to the boys' 23%.

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Choice of study courses among Germanstudents between 1991 and 2012, Photo: studienwahl.de

So now, what does this mean in the long run? Will German families be reserving sun loungers with their bath towels on Mars any time soon?

"It would be cool to live on another planet", says Christine Kessler, "We've even discussed what it would be like to have the first space-baby. After all, human expansion to space and establishing civilization there is inevitable."

That is, if her project goes as planned. By 2020, the winner should be on her way to the stars.

by Max Bringmann

SEE ALSO: Is minimum height for pilots unfair to women?

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