Álvarez is an aerospace engineer and García a researcher into cancer. / efe

Spain's latest astronauts, a cancer researcher and a disabled aerospace engineer

Pablo Álvarez Fernández and Sara García Alonso are new members of the European Space Agency Astronaut Corps and were chosen from more than 22,500 candidates

L.A. GÁMEZ / B. JUEZ Madrid

An aerospace engineer and a researcher into cancer, both from León, are following in the footsteps of Spanish astronaut Pedro Duque, 30 years on.

It was announced in Paris this week that Pablo Álvarez Fernández and Sara García Alonso are new members of the European Space Agency Astronaut Corps, which consists of 17 men and women who have succeeded in a long and difficult selection process.

There had been over 22,500 candidates, 1,300 of them from Spain. Like their new colleagues, Álvarez and García could take part in future manned missions to the moon and to Mars.

Parastronaut programme

Pablo Álvarez is the first member of the Astronaut Corps with a disability. “I have a very slight disability in my left leg and applied through the parastronaut programme. At first I wasn’t considering becoming a career astronaut, but now I’m among the five who have been chosen,” he said.

Like his colleagues, he will begin training immediately at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, and after 12 months he will go on to a second stage of training to fly to the International Space Station. When the astronauts are assigned a mission, they have to undergo further training specifically to carry it out.

Sara García, the first Spanish woman to become an astronaut, was selected as a reserve, a new category comprising six women and five men. They will continue in their present jobs, but will sign a consulting and basic support contract with the European Agency. They can be recruited at any time to start training if they are considered ideal candidates for a particular mission.

The ESA has also incorporated a British astronaut with a disability into the corps for the first time, John McFall, who would never have been able to join before the criteria were changed. The decision to allow people with disabilities to apply is seen as very positive. “When we fly into space we are all disabled,” insisted Samantha Cristoforetti, the present commander of the EEI.