Europe is to recruit new astronauts for the first time in 11 years as leading space-faring nations set their sights on missions to the Moon and, eventually, Mars.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is looking to add up to 26 permanent and reserve astronauts. It is strongly encouraging women to apply and is looking into how it might add people with disabilities to its roster to boost diversity among crews.

But it won’t be easy to land one of the coveted positions, it warned at a news conference last week.

First, ESA expects a “very high number” of applications to come in during the eight-week recruitment drive from March 31, said Lucy van der Tas, ESA head of talent acquisition.

Second, those whose applications are accepted will undergo a rigorous six-stage selection process that will take until October 2022.

“Candidates need to be mentally prepared for this process,” van der Tas said.

Adapting technology that enabled humans to be in space could open the opportunity for people with disabilities, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti said.

“When it comes to space travel, we are all disabled,” Cristoforetti added.

Human space flight looks set for a revival.

After years in which the only launch site for crewed flights to space was Baikonur in the steppes of Kazakhstan, cooperation with private companies like SpaceX has raised prospects for more human missions.

Requirements for an astronaut job at ESA include a master’s degree in natural sciences, engineering, mathematics or computer science and three years of postgraduate experience.

“I think it’s a great opportunity. . . . It will be an opportunity to learn a lot about yourselves,” Cristoforetti said.

— Reuters