Only three female European astronauts have so far been into space. Numerous effects of microgravity on the functioning of the female body must still be researched and understood for future missions to Mars or tourist spaceflights, for example. As part of the 'Female Astronaut' initiative, HE Space is currently looking for a German female astronaut for a 10-day mission to the International Space Station ISS. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is assisting in the selection of the candidates by conducting the psychological and medical aptitude tests.
"The 'Female Astronaut' initiative shows that the German space industry is also exploring new roads. By conducting the psychological and medical examinations as part of the selection process, DLR is once again demonstrating its scientific competence in this field," emphasises Hansjörg Dittus, DLR's Executive Board Member responsible for space research and technology. "The candidates' medical and psychological data are a unique basis for further work in the field of human spaceflight."
While HE Space is in charge of the actual selection, DLR examined 81 female applicants to recommend suitable candidates for the mission. In the first stage of the selection process, knowledge and performance tests were carried out for the verification of basic cognitive performance at the Department Aviation and Space Psychology of the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Hamburg. In stage two, the candidates had to fulfil team tasks and interviews, the results of which were used to assess team competency and personality. The physical suitability of the candidates was determined in January by the Aeromedical Center at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine at the DLR site in Cologne. Stress tests and multi-day examinations are performed to keep the risk of a future astronaut needing medical treatment on the ISS as low as possible and reduce the associated risk of having to terminate the mission. Similarly, the examinations should ensure that the female space traveller can participate in all training and missions and can easily handle a possible emergency escape. The criteria for the examinations are based on the requirements for a commercial female astronaut and not those for a professional astronaut.
DLR's scientific interest in the studies also includes the German female astronaut's mission to the ISS, planned for 2020. During the 10-day mission, a periodic progression analysis of personality aspects is to be carried out before, during and after the space flight. Scientists will also monitor any changes in the astronaut's vision or the eyes themselves, which could occur due to the Visual Impairment and Intracranial Pressure Syndrome (VIIP). A much more gender-specific part of the investigations on the ISS will involve the recording of hormonal conditions in microgravity. In view of further long-term missions and future manned missions to Mars, a better understanding of the hormonal system in microgravity is extremely important. The acquired data will then be compared with the existing data for male astronauts.