Astronaut recruitment drive fetches over 5,000 applications

Over 5,000 Canadians handed in their resumés to the Canadian Space Agency in hopes of getting shot at proving they have the right stuff to be astronauts.

Over 5,000 Canadians handed in their resumés to the Canadian Space Agency in hopes of landing the lofty position of astronaut.

The space agency's national recruitment drive to fill two positions in the astronaut corps by 2009 closed Thursday night at midnight with a total of 5,352 Canadians applying for the jobs.

It's only the third time since the creation of the Canadian Astronaut Corps in 1983 the agency has sought applicants. The first two recruitment drives also brought in close to 5,000 applications.

This year's recruitment drive, announced in May, comes after Dave Williams retired in the spring and Bjarni Tryggvason retired in June. The two new astronauts will join Steve MacLean, Julie Payette, Robert Thirsk and Chris Hadfield to bring the corps back up to six members.

The agency encouraged people who are in good shape, with at least an undergraduate degree in science or engineering, and either work experience or a master's degree or a licence to practise medicine, to apply.

A regional breakdown of applicants mostly conforms to the nation's population, with 40 per cent (2,164) of the applications coming from Ontario, 23 per cent (1,160) from Quebec and 11 per cent (609) from Alberta.

About 20 per cent of the applicants were women, a number consistent with previous astronaut recruitment drives, the CSA said.

The field of applicants will be whittled down to a short list of 40, who will then undergo more extensive tests and interviews, said MacLean in explaining the process a week ago. A key trait the agency is looking for is how trainable a person is, he said.

"It's important, because many of the tasks they will be doing they will have never done before," he said.

Once the candidates are selected next May, basic training will begin at NASA in August 2009, followed by training for missions of about six months. Salaries for the positions range from $83,300 to $162,700.

It's an exciting time for potential astronauts, said MacLean, as they will get to train on the crew exploration vehicles, or CEVs, which will take the next generation of astronauts to the moon.