Testimony of an Astronaut Candidate
Ivo Yves Vieira first applied to be an astronaut in 2008. Thirteen years later, he steps up once again
to the challenge launched by the European Space Agency.
2008, on my way to Germany, flying above the clouds, following a dream that was more than 20 years old… Chosen from among 8,000 candidates, I was one of 900 who took psycho technical tests in the first selection phase, undoubtedly one of the most difficult. It was not enough to be good. You had to be excellent.
It was an intense day with tests of spatial orientation, concentration, memory, dexterity, and others. For me, the most difficult were the memory tests, both auditory and visual. There were other very challenging ones in which we had to mentally rotate a cube. Another more surprising test consisted of using a joystick to control some indicators that reacted in a strange way. During the breaks and at lunch, talking to my classmates, I could tell who were the other 40 candidates in my group that day. We had Frenchmen, Italians, Spaniards, and Greeks, among others. I was the only Portuguese candidate. But basically, all were either PhDs or fighter pilots. All very good, but none good enough to be one of the 6 astronauts selected.
How was the experience? It was a great moment. I knew it would be difficult to get selected, but I had no choice but to apply. To dream is to believe that it’s possible. And when you believe, you go all the way. And the feeling of being part of the cream of the crop of Europe is a good one. It is recognition of the investment of more than 20 years in the pursuit of a dream.
But is it worth pursuing such a difficult and probably unattainable dream? If we get stuck on this dream as being the only thing that matters, then we’re lost. But if we look at the dream as a path of so many experiences and so much learning, then it’s worth it, whatever the outcome.
“Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” (E.P. Rose) Yes. I wanted to be an astronaut. Did I fail? Of the 900 candidates who took the psycho technical tests, they chose around 200 for the next phase. And I wasn’t one of those 200… So did I fail? No. I didn’t fail. During this whole journey, I created a space company and had the opportunity to contribute to several space missions, including one to Jupiter. I’m proud to be a pioneer in the space age in Portugal. And that is very special. In other words, I was very successful on this path.
But dreaming is dreaming… and keep on believing. Now we’re in 2021 and a new contest has opened to select either 4 or 6 ESA astronauts. I open the contest website and check the various conditions, including the age limit. 50 years old. I can’t believe it. 50 years old? And how old am I? 49 years old! And what do I do? I compete. And why? Because everything is worthwhile if the soul is not small.