Geek Trivia: Launching a radio star

What European Space Agency member country recruited its first astronaut by way of a radio commercial?

There's an old axiom for career aspirants that goes something like this: "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have." Now, as a general rule, this probably works, but considering that a spacesuit will run you about $2 million retail, that's a pretty hefty price tag for a fashion statement of your dream to walk on the moon.

It really only helps to drop hints about your desire for a promotion if someone has the power to offer the job you're looking for. You can dress up as Green Lantern all you want (and people have), but there's simply nobody handing out Power Rings fueled by the focused emerald energies of your will. Thus, cobble together a makeshift Extravehicular Activity suit if you must, but you better make certain NASA, Roskosmos, or the Chinese National Space Agency see you in it, because these are the only three entities on Earth that can get you a full-time job wearing one.

(Yes, Virgin Galactic will soon start ferrying people to the edge of space, but they aren't even promising to clear the atmosphere, let alone issue you a space suit.)

In fact, outside of this trio, only five organizations have the power to even launch unmanned spacecraft into orbit: the European Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, the Israeli Space Agency, the National Space Agency of Ukraine, and the Indian Space Research Organization. Despite these groups' vast records of success in designing, building, launching, and maintaining various space launch vehicles, satellites, and probes, none of them has ever sent an astronaut into space on its own. Every space traveler from these and any other organization or nation outside of China has reached space on an American or Soviet/Russian flight. And to date, China has only done it twice.

This is a testament to huge technological leads earned by the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War space race. Few other nations had or have the economic wherewithal to underwrite a space program, manned or otherwise. Even upstart China's current space agency didn't exist in its present form until 1993, and many other leading countries didn't seriously get into the game until the United States began offering up slots on its space shuttle flights in the 1980s.

Still, perhaps no other entry into manned spaceflight can compare to one particularly unorthodox ESA-member state's opening salvo, as this country recruited its first astronaut with a radio commercial?


Get the answer.

By Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...