Czech fighter pilot selected as one of ESA’s new team of astronauts

Aleš Svoboda

The European Space Agency announced its new team of astronauts at the Grand Palais Éphémère in Paris on Wednesday – and among them is Czech fighter pilot Aleš Svoboda. Svoboda is part of the reserve pool, but if he gets to go into space, he will become the second Czech ever to do so.

The ESA’s new team of 17 astronauts consists of five core members, three men and two women, and 12 reserves. Aleš Svoboda is a member of the reserve team, and to get there was no mean feat. He was selected from almost 22,600 candidates, all eager for their chance to see the Earth from a distance. Of these tens of thousands of applicants, approximately 200 were Czech – but he was the only one of his countrymen to make the team. Svoboda describes his feelings about being chosen from the selection procedure.

Aleš Svoboda,  ESA Astronaut Class of 2022 | Photo: ESA

“I was extremely honoured and very happy, and on the other hand also very humbled because I haven’t done anything yet apart from the selection itself, and there’s a lot of work that lies ahead.”

Svoboda is a fighter pilot in the Czech air force who has been flying high-performance aircraft, primarily the Gripen fighter aircraft, since 2008, clocking up about 1500 flight hours in the process. He studied military technology at Brno’s University of Defence and transport engineering at the University of Pardubice, as well as holding a PhD in aircraft and rocket technology. A native of Brno, he says his interest in space began at a young age.

“I’ve always been fascinated by space, ever since I was a small child. It’s basically been my lifelong ambition to became an astronaut, and I see it as a logical continuation of my career as a fighter pilot.”

The astronauts will begin their twelve-month basic training at the ESA's European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany in the spring of 2023. The members of the reserve team will continue in their current jobs but will be available as replacements in the event of the departure of someone from the core team. Svoboda details what excites him most about the ESA’s space programme.

“I’ve always been excited about the European vision of going beyond low-earth orbit and establishing a presence around the moon and on the lunar surface potentially, and being vitally involved in the Gateway and Artemis programmes.”

Although some are saying his chances of actually getting to fly into space are fairly small, the chance is still there.

In the late 1970s, the former Czechoslovakia became only the third country in the world to have one of its citizens go to space. Military pilot Vladimír Remek was a crew member of the Soyuz 28 spacecraft in March 1978, the first astronaut from a country other than the Soviet Union or the United States. Remek was the first and only Czechoslovak astronaut to see space to date. If Svoboda does get the opportunity, he will go down in history as the second Czech ever to fly into outer space.