Blindfolded, Maria-Victoria Caro-Asensio gripped the hand of the person in front of her as she navigated through Germany’s Black Forest. She could only trust that the leader of the 10-person chain—the only one not visually impaired—was leading them in the right direction. The task, she says, was one of many team-building exercises to determine if she had Russia’s right stuff.
Caro-Asensio was trying to win a chance for a trip to the Russian Space Center to work with cosmonauts as they prepared for a mission. Caro-Asensio first heard of the competition, which was sponsored by Russia’s space agency, eight years ago while living in Madrid. She filled out a 30-question application she found in a magazine to prove she had an active lifestyle. As a frequent paraglider and scuba diver, this proved an easy task. The 28-year-old then received a late-night call from a Russian psychologist who needed to determine if she was mentally fit as well.
Apparently she was, because she became one of seven people invited to Germany for more tests and physical challenges.
“For orientation, they dropped us off in the middle of nowhere in the mountains with a compass and a piece of a map,” she says. “Another group was dropped off with another piece of the map. Each one had a little piece of a map and a walkie-talkie to share information and get back to base.”
Participants also used the different aeronautic machines at the European Space Center in Germany and participated in television interviews. In the end, Caro-Asensio didn’t qualify but was a runner-up.
Now 36 and studying secondary education at Xavier, she fondly recounts her efforts. “I enjoyed every single moment,” she says. “It was a beautiful experience.”