Every ESA astronaut starts the training cycle by completing the 16-month 'Basic training' at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany.
Basic training provides an overall familiarization with the future career as an astronaut. It consists of four main training blocks:
Provides a first orientation for the newly hired astronaut candidates. They receive an overview of the major spacefaring nations, their space agencies (with special emphasis on the European Space Agency) as well as of the major manned and unmanned space programmes. Space law and intergovernmental agreements governing the worldwide cooperation in space complete this first training block.
Provides basic knowledge on various technical and scientific disciplines. This block brings all new astronaut candidates, who have different professional backgrounds and expertise, to a common minimum knowledge base in subjects of relevance for their future astronaut career.
It deals with technical disciplines such as spaceflight engineering, electrical engineering, aerodynamics, propulsion, orbit mechanics, materials and structures and it also includes an introduction to science disciplines like research under weightlessness (in human physiology, biology and material sciences), Earth observation, astronomy and others.
3. Space systems and operations
Provides a detailed overview of all Space Station onboard systems (e.g. ISS structure and design, guidance navigation & control, thermal control, electrical power generation and distribution, command and tracking, life support systems, robotic systems, systems for extra-vehicular activities, payload systems), as well as on the major systems of those spacecraft which service the ISS (e.g. Shuttle, Soyuz, Progress, ATV and HTV) and also includes ground systems like development and test sites, launch sites, training and control centres.
4. Special skills
Focuses on the training of important special skills such as generic robotic operations, rendezvous and docking, Russian language, human behaviour and performance and finally SCUBA diving as a first preparation for Extra Vehicular Activities (EVA or spacewalk) training.
ESA astronaut and former Belgian Air Force pilot Frank De Winne says, "You get some general ideas during the basic training; what is the ISS, what is it like to be an astronaut and what will my tasks be up there."
"To learn how to behave underwater is part of the basic skills that you need to do an EVA, or spacewalk. Every person who has to do an EVA needs to have a basic diving certificate because the conditions you work under when you are doing a spacewalk are similar to those you experience when you are diving," says De Winne.
For more about the SCUBA diving and EVA training, see the Neutral buoyancy EVA training article