Spain gets its first astronaut in 31 years: Pablo Alvarez says he ‘still can’t believe it’ after achieving his childhood dream

SPANISH space exploration has a new star: 36-year-old Pablo Alvarez from Leon.

Alvarez has officially graduated as an astronaut for the European Space Agency (ESA) at the Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany.

Speaking to Hora 14 on Cadena SER radio station, following his graduation ceremony, Álvarez told of his overwhelming joy and excitement.

“Receiving the astronaut wings is a symbolic gesture that signifies that the European Space Agency can now assign me to a space mission at any time,” he declared.

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The European Space Agency’s news astronaut: Spaniard Pablo Alvarez. Credit: ESA

This graduation makes Alvarez the second Spanish astronaut to join the ESA after Pedro Duque. 

The agency plans to send its first new astronaut to space in 2026, with all five graduates aiming to reach the International Space Station before 2030.

While reaching the Moon may seem like a distant dream, Alvarez acknowledges it as a universal aspiration for many, himself included. 

“It’s more than just mine – it is everyone’s dream.”

However, his immediate focus lies on the technically complex first mission to the International Space Station, which will require extensive training in the coming years.

“I have just begun,” he said, “and I hope to be here for many years to come. So, I will continue to dream of that possible mission far beyond.”

Alvarez’s journey began with a spark of wonder as a child gazing at the moon from his village in Leon.

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The ESA’s latest class of astronauts includes Sophie Adenot, Rosemary Coogan, Raphaël Liégeois, Marco Sieber, and Pablo Álvarez himself. Credit: ESA

He admits to losing sight of the dream as he grew up, but the ESA job posting three years ago rekindled his passion. 

However one giant leap he would not make would be to embark on a mission with no return to Earth.

“I believe a space journey must include a return. Part of space exploration is about bringing things back to Earth—sharing your experiences and scientific and technological advances with humanity. A mission without a return doesn’t make sense to me.”

The ESA’s latest class of astronauts includes Sophie Adenot, Rosemary Coogan, Raphaël Liégeois, Marco Sieber, and Pablo Álvarez himself. 

Katherine Bennell-Pegg of the Australian Space Agency also graduated with her ESA classmates, promising an exciting era of global collaboration in space exploration.

They were selected from a pool of 22 500 applicants across ESA member states.

From this group, only 17 were selected for the astronaut class of 2022 comprises, including five astronaut candidates and 12 members in the European astronaut reserve.

Over the past year, they immersed themselves in a comprehensive training programme, covering various areas such as spacecraft systems, spacewalks, flight engineering, robotics, life support systems, survival, and medical training. 

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