Only two of the women astronauts have been European.
The European Space Agency launched a recruitment drive focussed on improving diversity among its astronauts. Thus far, 495 of the 560 people who have made it to space are men. Only two of the women astronauts have been European while the rest are from the United States.
The two European women are Samantha Cristoforetti and Claudie Haigneré. Haigneré, a research cosmonaut is French and has performed experiments in fluid physics, physiology, developmental biology, technology, and Cassiopée mission technology. She was the first female European astronaut to complete a taxi flight to the International Space Station in 2021.
Italy contributed Cristoforetti, who was a member of the Italian Air Force prior to his selection as an EASA astronaut in 2009. Cristoforetti took 200 days in space during the Futura mission between 2014 and 2015. Jan Woerner, ESA Director-General highlighted the Agency’s priority to capture “very excellent astronauts” as they shift focus towards the Moon and Mars. This is the first recruitment drive in 11 years and is also targeting people with disabilities.
The Parastronaut Feasibility Project will pick an astronaut with an acceptable degree of physical ability. Applicants of people who are cognitively, technically, psychologically, and professionally qualified will be considered. Previously, some of the existing space hardware provided limitations to the acceptance of more diverse pools, however, the agency is willing to invest in adaptations that help them serve as better crew members.
The ESA took advice from the International Paralympics Committee and is advising applicants with a "lower limb deficiency" brought about by amputation or congenital problems to apply. The committee will also consider people with leg length differences, shortened/missing limbs, or generally short people.
ESA will work with international and commercial partners in determining if it is possible to fly a preferred candidate to the ISS. Applications will run for eight weeks starting on the 31st of March.
Among the people who praised ESA’s new diversity drive was the UK’s first astronaut, Helen Sherman. BBC reports her expressing delight in the new criteria for astronaut selections, terming it as a “better representation of the population's diversity”. Tim Peake, another leading European astronaut from the UK, and Samantha Cristoforetti (an Italian astronaut) praised ESAs recruitment drive and focus on improving diversity.
Back in 1989 Sharman responded to a radio advert searching for astronauts. She was chosen ahead of 13,000 other applicants to fly on a Soyuz rocket where she spent eight days on board Mir, the former Russian Space station. Today the odds of landing such a selection are very low. In 2009, ESA recruited 6 applicants from a pool of 8,000 candidates - of whom Peak was among them.