French lecturer reaches for stars

Matthieu Pluvinage has his sights on space. Photo: Reuters
Matthieu Pluvinage has his sights on space. Photo: Reuters
In a break from his job teaching engineering to students in France's Normandy region, Matthieu Pluvinage put the finishing touches on an application for a new job: astronaut.

Pluvinage is taking advantage of a European Space Agency initiative to run an open recruitment drive for new astronauts for its manned flight programme.

While the 38-year-old has never been a test pilot or served in the military - typical credentials for astronauts in the past - he ticks many of the boxes in the job description.

He has a masters degree in science, he speaks English and French, he reckons he is fit enough to pass the medical, and he has a passion for space.

"There are things that make me think, 'I want to do this! It's cool!'," said Pluvinage in his office at the ESIGELEC engineering school near Rouen, 140km west of Paris, where he teaches.

Pluvinage has a collection of books about Thomas Pesquet, the space engineer and airline pilot who this year became the first French commander of the International Space Station.

Displayed on a computer monitor was his job application, still being drafted. He has until June 18 to submit it, and will know the result in October.

The odds are long. He has not yet even entered the recruitment process. Competition will be stiff. To succeed, Pluvinage will need to get through six selection rounds.

But he said he decided to take the risk because the next time the space agency puts out an open call for new astronauts, likely to be years from now, he may be too old.

"No matter the result, if I don't try it, I will have regrets for the rest of my life."


Meanwhile, Amazon's billionaire founder Jeff Bezos says that he and his brother Mark will fly on the first crewed space flight from his rocket company Blue Origin next month.

"Ever since I was five years old, I've dreamed of traveling to space. On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother," Bezos, who is one of the richest people in the world, said in an Instagram post on Monday.

Bezos, who is due to step down as Amazon's chief on July 5, will join the winner of an auction for a seat on the first space flight from Blue Origin.

Bezos, fellow billionaires Elon Musk and Richard Branson have been investing billions of dollars on their rocket startups, but Bezos will be the first of the three to actually travel into space on a rocket developed by his own company.

The Blue Origin spacecraft, which is set to carry Bezos and others, has undergone 15 test flights, none of which had any passengers onboard.

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