The European Space Agency (ESA) reports that the first recruitment drive for astronauts since 2008 netted 22,000 applications, including an increase in female applicants and the first applications from people with disabilities.The agency put out a call for applicants in February, encouraging more women and people with disabilities to apply to boost diversity among crews. The agency launched the “parastronaut” program to examine what is needed to get disabled astronauts onto the International Space Station.The ESA said the preliminary number of applications this year far exceeded the 8,413 applications received in 2008. More than 200 people applied for the newly established vacancy for astronauts with a physical disability, and about 5,400 women — about 24% of all applicants — applied. The share of women was 15.5% in 2008, the ESA said.The space agency said applications would next be screened through a six-stage process, with finalists expected to be announced in October 2022.The Associated Press contributed to this report.  



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