credit NASA / Flight / caption: Will it be a woman's face behind the visor?
Tomorrow on 20 May at 1315h central European time the European Space Agency is to announce its new astronaut selection and that will be followed later that day by a press conference by the British National Space Centre (BNSC) because the ESA event is expected to name a UK citizen, possibly a woman, as a member of the four reserve candidates. If the UK astronaut candidate is a woman the announcement will come 18-years and two-days since British Cosmonaut Helen Sharman was launched on her 10-day mission on 18 May 1991
Hyperbola has been extremely sceptical that the UK would join ESA's astronaut corps but there are strong rumours that this time round this country that has had so many famous explorers will finally join the expeditions to the final frontier; and the planned BNSC press conference certainly indicates that something is up, pun intended
That UK candidate will not be one of the four being announced tomorrow that are, assuming they make it through the training, guaranteed that Soyuz TMA or Advanced Crew Vehicle ride to the International Space Station
The UK candidate has to be in the reserve of four, the four individuals that are selected as a back up to the main four, in case of ill health or a failure during training or a change in government policy by a leading candidate's nation
This is because as Germany, France and Italy are the main contributors to ESA's microgravity and ISS programmes they are always going to have an astronaut - whatever ESA says about picking the best people - and then there is the fourth country. Based on today's astronaut corps this maybe another Belgian, Dutchman or Swede but there have been earlier rumours about a Danish or Spanish candidate
The rumour that the UK candidate may be female is not linked to what is probably a coincidence about the close correlation between Helen Sharman's 1991 launch date and the press conference but is in fact an observation that today ESA's astronaut corps has no women in it. But as ESA's head of human spaceflight told Hyperbola on 16 May, the agency will pick the best people whether that is a woman or man
Hyperbola still thinks that one woman can be expected in the line up
As for whether they will be British, one ESA official asked me, sort of rhetorically I feel, "does the British government actually understand what it means to have an astronaut?"
Well, no, quite frankly
But at this point the UK government is just glad about any good news to divert attention away from all of its more pressing political problems