Last year, the European Space Agency (ESA) presented 17 new astronauts candidates to the general public. Only five of them will become captains or crew members aboard a spacecraft. Last week, this new group started their one-year training.
As part of International Space Day, we wondered about the social security protection these astronauts candidates could benefit. And more importantly, we wondered if they can join the Overseas Social Security?
What kind of social protection do astronauts enjoy?
Space travel is often associated with risks and challenges that are quite out of the ordinary. That is why several countries and organisations have made sure astronauts benefit from proper social security protection.
One of the most important parts of social protection is medical care. During their training, astronaut candidates are trained to function in extreme conditions. The risk of medical issues is therefore high (space sickness, radiation damage, etc.).
For astronauts, financial support is also important. As they often risk their life during missions, a solid income and appropriate pension provision is essential.
Finally, there is also the need for psychological support. Astronauts can experience stress and loneliness during missions. To help them cope with these challenges, they often get psychological support, such as frequent communication with family and friends as well as access to therapists and other mental health professionals.
But how is this protection specifically organised in Europe?
Application of the country of employment principle
The European Space Agency (ESA) has a comprehensive social security programme for its employees. It covers a range of benefits such as disability benefits, as well as health and pension insurance. In addition, European astronauts may also be eligible for social security benefits in their country of residence. For example, if an astronaut resides in Spain, they are entitled to benefits under the Spanish social security system. The exact details of the programme may vary depending on the astronaut's country of residence and the terms of their employment contract.
Burning question: can astronauts join the Overseas Social Security?
One of the most important conditions for joining the Overseas Social Security is that you must be employed outside the European Economic Area, Switzerland or the UK. Applying this principle literally to the situation of European astronauts, we can conclude that they are indeed outside Europe during space missions and can therefore join the Overseas Social Security.
Still, in practice this isn’t as obvious as they are not continuously in space and generally work in a country within Europe. In addition, they are in a unique work situation and therefore deserve a unique social security plan which offers them the best possible protection against all space challenges.
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