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Germany

Rocketwoman: Space race is on to find Germany's first female astronaut

For the six finalists competing to be Germany's first "Astronautin," travelling into space is suddenly within reach. But a lack of funds could still put the privately-organized project in jeopardy.

Some four decades since Sigmund Jähn became the country's first "cosmonaut," Claudia Kessler, the initiator of "Die Astronautin" project, announced on Monday the final six contenders to be Germany's first female astronaut.

After fighting off competition from almost 500 other applicants, the eventual winner will be sent into space on a 10-day round-trip to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2020.

Lack of funds

Whether Kessler's vision will be realized remains unclear, however, as the privately organized and funded initiative is still looking for sponsors to cover the costs of space travel and astronaut training. But at around five million euros ($5.2 million), it doesn't come cheap. So far only a fraction of the cost has been raised through donation boxes and Crowdfunding campaigns.

"This is not a Mickey Mouse event here," said co-founding initiative member Matthias Hill. "My crazy idea has become a fully-fledged project."

Fellow initiator Kessler began the project a year ago in the hope of creating a role model for young girls.

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Of a total of 537 space travelers, 60 have been women, 45 of whom were from the United States

Among the finalists who were selected from a whittled-down group of almost 80 applicants is a combat pilot, an astrophysicist and graduate aerospace technician.

Claudia Stern, director of the medico-psychological selection procedure, said it was a difficult task, adding that the six remaining candidates had passed the medical and mental tests without any problems.

Finalist and Potsdam Aerospace Engineer Susanne Peters said her competitors "are all great people," but sees her advantage in her versatility: next to Taekwondo, she also runs half marathons and often travels.

'The time has come' 

Physical and unusual hobbies seem, however, to be a common attribute among the final six, who between them are proficient in karate, kite surfing and climbing.

According to Ulrich Walter, a German physicist who himself in 1993 left the earth in a rocket, said this was no coincidence.

"Every day, without a window, in a barrel: the astronaut's life and training is extremely physical and psychologically strenuous," Walter said at the Wednesday's ceremony.

Even if "Die Astronautin" fails to be financed, "it's great food for thought," said Magdalena Pree, who at 28 is the youngest of the six finalists.

Kessler, however, remains confident. "I am so convinced this will work," she said.

"The time has come for Germany's first female astronaut."

ksb/jm (AFP, dpa)

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