A cancer researcher and an aerospace engineer from León, new Spanish astronauts

Pablo Álvarez Fernández and Sara García Alonso, the new Spanish astronauts. / Efe

Pablo Álvarez, who suffers from a slight disability, and Sara García have won the selection over more than 22,500 applicants and could travel to the Moon and Mars

An aerospace engineer and a cancer researcher have taken Pedro Duque's baton thirty years later. Both from Leon and born in 1988 and 1989, respectively, Pablo Álvarez Fernández and Sara García Alonso were presented yesterday in Paris as members of the new class of the European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Corps, made up of seventeen men and women who They have prevailed in a long and hard selection process over more than 22,500 candidates, 1,300 of them from Spain. Like the rest of their peers, Spanish astronauts could participate in future manned missions to the Moon and Mars.

Álvarez Fernández is one of the five new ESA career astronauts and the first in the agency's history with a disability. «I have a small disability in my left leg, very slight. This, in principle, would have excluded me from the above tests. So, when they opened this door, I entered through that program (the one for parastronauts). At first, I was not going to be a career astronaut and today (yesterday) they have put me among the five chosen ones, "he told this newspaper. Like his teammates, he will start training immediately in Cologne. After twelve months of training at the European Astronaut Center, they will go through a second phase of training to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) and, when they are assigned to a mission, they will have to train specifically for it.

Pablo Álvarez, the new Spanish astronaut. /

ESA TV

García Alonso, the first Spanish astronaut, has been selected in the reserve, a new category established by ESA that includes six women and five men. They will continue in their current jobs, but they will sign a consulting and basic support contract with the agency. They can be recruited at any time to start training in case they are the ideal candidates for a mission.

ESA has incorporated a parastronaut to its staff for the first time, a candidate who would never have been admitted under the old criteria, the British John McFall. "When we fly into space we are all disabled," stressed the Italian Samantha Cristoforetti, current commander of the ISS and the only European astronaut until yesterday, when the selection process began in February 2021.
As Sergi Vaquer Araujo explained to this newspaper two weeks ago, head of the ESA Space Medicine Team, “the parastronaut project is a feasibility project. ESA is committed to doing everything possible to materialize a first pilot flight into space for a person with a disability. But that is not guaranteed because Europe does not have its own vehicle for manned flights. It is a step forward for the agency towards diversity.

mars and cancer

Pablo Álvarez Fernández has a degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of León and a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the Tecnológica de Varsovia. He is fluent in Spanish, English, Polish and French. He was a structural engineer in aircraft programs at Airbus and Safran in Spain, the United Kingdom and France, between 2011 and 2017. Then, until 2020, he worked at Airbus Defense and Space, in the United Kingdom, as mechanical architect of the Rosalind Franklin rover of ExoMars 2022, a mission with Russia to Mars, canceled after the invasion of Ukraine. His responsibilities included the development of the integration procedure for the radioisotope heating unit, as well as the direction of the environmental tests.

Sara García Alonso and Laura de la Puente, researchers at the National Cancer Research Center. (CNIO). /

CNIO

Sara García Alonso also studied at the University of León After completing her training as a molecular biologist and earning her doctorate 'cum laude', she has been working since 2019 at the National Cancer Research Center (CNIO), where she leads a project to discover drugs against cancer. She collaborates as a volunteer with the Spanish Association Against Cancer and is fond of scuba diving, the Krav Maga fight —the official personal defense system of the Israeli Army— and skydiving. She speaks Spanish and English, and has basic knowledge of French.

«How proud to live live the announcement that Spain will have, 30 years later, two new ESA astronauts. It is an achievement of the commitment of the Government of Spain for the aerospace sector, "said Diana Morant, Minister of Science and Innovation, who attended the agency's Interministerial Council in Paris yesterday. Former Minister Pedro Duque was so far the only Spanish member of the ESA astronaut corps, for which he was elected in 1992. An aeronautical engineer, he flew into space twice: the first time on the American shuttle Discovery between October and November 1998; the second in a Soyuz spacecraft in which he visited the EEl in October 2003.