With the competition coming to a climax, the testing moves on to the ‘operational phase’ and becomes even more difficult.
Those that make it through will be heading to the final stage in Florida, but as astronaut Chris Hadfield says: “The difficult part of astronaut selection is that almost nobody gets selected.”
The remaining candidates are dropped in the Wye Valley on the English-Welsh borders, for a test of their ability to survive an emergency crash landing in unfamiliar terrain. It’s a test of their teamwork, but also of whether they can step forward and lead the group when required. They have to get to a rendezvous point in time to make a rescue call to a satellite passing overhead – but first they have to descend a 100ft cliff.
Next, they face a test that is part of every astronaut selection process around the world: a free-ranging interview with a panel of experts. Just as in the interview Chris faced as part of his astronaut selection process, no question is off limits and the candidates are interrogated on everything from their knowledge of human spaceflight, to their ‘worst fears in a relationship’.
Those that make it through head to Florida, starting at the epicentre of American space travel, the Kennedy Space Center, home to Chris’s former spaceship Atlantis, which completed 33 missions and orbited the earth almost 500 times.
This part of Florida is littered with some of the world’s most important astronaut training facilities. Just along the coast in Key Largo, the finalists face an underwater spacewalking test where they have to dive down to and survey an underwater habitat at the bottom of a lagoon. To test every aspect of the candidates’ capabilities, Chris has adapted the test to probe specific strengths and weaknesses in the three finalists.
Pictured are All 12 candidates prior to selection process starting: James Allen, Hannah Shields, Prash Patel, Suzie Imber, Tessa Naran, James Hedger, Tim Gregory, Jackie Bell, Vijay Shah, Merritt Moore, Derreck Van Gelderen, Kerry Bennett
Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes? Episode 5 (of 6) airs on Sunday 24 September 2017 from 8.00pm-9.00pm on BBC Two.