One of my biggest life passions is space exploration and the adventures of the cosmos. In March 2021 the European Space Agency began its next round of recruitment to its astronaut programme. In response to this, I decided to try the application process for fun. The process I found was very comprehensive and required a thorough evaluation of my skills and abilities in academia and past employment. I didn’t make the grade needed to process my application but in my experience, it was worth it.
The pathway I took to apply for this was for the ESA parastronaut feasibility study. This was a programme of disabled astronauts that ESA would recruit to see if accommodations could be made to allow for disabled people to work in space. They were asking specifically for disabled people with limb deficiencies. I am not in that category but I put in my application that I was autistic and I was putting myself forward as a test subject to see how neurodiversity could perform in space missions.
It will be a good idea to test the usefulness and abilities of neurodiversity in spaceflight. Autistics have the capacity to be space explorers because they love a lot of things associated with it. Sensory stimulation, social isolation, enjoy maths and science, solving technical problems, investigating and seeking out curious wonders. These are just some of the things that make me a good candidate for an Astro Aspie.
I’ve written on here in Space People on Earth about what the work station of an astronaut is and it’s similarities to being in lockdown during the pandemic. I believe that the home-based routine is suitable for an autistic worker and is practical in that respect for an astronaut. I can see myself at work using myself as a test subject for psychology studies on Earth on how the autistic brain functions in microgravity. That swimming around in zero-g with the Earth way down below would encapsulate an autistic person’s imagination to boost the aspirations of many people on the spectrum.
I didn’t make the grade to get an interview but I am glad to have made an application because opportunities like these come around at least once in a lifetime. But I am not stopping with my hopes for flying to space from there. British astronauts Tim Peake and Helen Sharman travelled into space in completely different circumstances. Sharman became Britain’s first astronaut in May 1991 as a competition winner for a programme to send a British citizen into space as part of Project Juno. This was a public-private partnership to promote Russian-UK cooperation and development strategies so that the post-Soviet nation could emerge into the modern world. Peake on the other hand is a professional astronaut who applied to the ESA astronaut corps in 2009 and is a full-time employee of a space agency working for space science.
Now as Sharman’s flight has shown the politics of space travel have impeded Britain’s ability to advance into something significant. NASA, ESA and Roscosmos operate as state-run space agencies that are funded by their governments and rely on diplomacy for international collaboration. The private sector however has managed to succeed in advancing space activities for Britain because they don’t require that bureaucratic structure. They have more freedom to be creative and to make money from space activities and in doing so got Britain it’s first astronaut into space and proved that the private sector has the capacity to make everyone a space traveller. This is where I think I can continue my space adventure.
One day I would like to propose a project to the UKSA and the British government a space mission which would allow me to get myself a seat on a Dragon spacecraft flying to the space station and conducting that psych study of me as an Astro Aspie. I am a strong supporter of private spaceflight as it has more room for opportunities and development in space activities where the state agencies have fallen back through lack of public support. It may be just the thing that space exploration needs to get a big boost in confidence and publicity.
Autistics have a lot of good skills to be useful in space exploration. They like being in isolation, they enjoy working to a routine, I have a passion for space travel, I am good at science and problem solving, and I have a powerful talent for observation.