Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes?

Who will take on the toughest job in the universe?

Life in space is extreme and unforgiving, and surviving it requires extraordinary physical and mental ability. Follow 12 ordinary people as they undertake a demanding training regime to prove they’ve got what it takes to become an astronaut.

“This show isn’t a simple reality contest…we went to huge lengths to represent a selection programme based on the ESA application criteria. We didn’t make it easy for participants.”

Dr Kevin Fong

“Imagine The Apprentice, peopled not by blowhards and chancers, but by candidates of distinction and dedication… it made for fascinating, smartly paced television.”

Gabriel Tate, The Times

The detail

Astronaut and former Commander of the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield, former NASA medical researcher Dr Kevin Fong, and psychologist Dr Iya Whiteley, have chosen 12 exceptional applicants from thousands. From these 12, just one candidate will ultimately be selected as the winner. The person who impresses the most will receive the ultimate reference: Chris’s backing for their application when the space agencies next take on recruits.

The candidates range from doctors of science to a military pilot, a surgeon, a dentist who has summited Mt Everest and a professional ballerina studying for a PhD in Physics. They all have one thing in common: their desire to find out if they are made of the ‘right stuff’ to be an astronaut. Competition is intense between these high-flyers, as those who fail to make the grade can be asked to leave the selection process at any time.

Over six weeks, the candidates have remarkable access to astronaut training facilities around the world including the state-of-the-art German Space Centre, a secret facility in Sweden and the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Using standards set by the world’s space agencies, they are put through a series of gruelling tests to find out who has the special qualities needed to be an astronaut.

In week one, the 12 candidates are thrown in at the deep end. They are first challenged to hover a helicopter, with no previous experience, to test how quickly they can learn a new skill. Astronaut Chris Hadfield sets them this test as it’s one astronauts need to master and it shows the candidates just how high the bar is being set.

Dr Kevin Fong then puts the candidates through a Beep Test that pushes them to their physical limits. Next, Chris runs a test for mental acuity used by space agencies to weed out candidates during their own selection processes.

Psychologist Dr Iya Whitely then interviews the candidates to look for facial micro-expressions that could reveal who would be best-suited to long-term missions in space.

Next, with no hospital in space every astronaut is trained in basic medicine and the candidates must face their fears by taking their own blood and, finally, they're confined to small personal spheres as a test for claustrophobia. Not everyone meets the high standard Chris has set, but which candidates will have what it takes to get through to the next stage of the selection process?

Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes? is a BBC Studios Science Unit production for BBC Two and aired in October 2017, with Executive Producer Helen Thomas and Series Producer Tom Coveney.

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