How to become an Astronaut. Being an astronaut is a highly selective and competitive profession. Every year, qualified candidates compete in a rigorous application process for a small number of positions. In this article, we will look at what an astronaut does, how astronauts train, the requirements for a career as an astronaut, and how to become one.
Who is an astronaut?
The term “astronaut” literally means “sailor among stars.” An astronaut is a person who has been specially trained and equipped to travel into space as part of a space program. Astronauts have been a part of the United States space program National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, since 1959.
The term “astronaut” is used by NASA to refer to any crew member aboard a NASA spacecraft or members of the NASA Astronaut Corps. NASA chooses astronauts from a diverse pool of applicants with diverse backgrounds. Only a small number of the thousands of applications received are chosen for the intensive astronaut candidate training program.
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Requirements to be an astronaut
Obtain the appropriate degree
Despite the fact that many successful astronauts have master’s degrees, PhDs, and post-doctoral qualifications, NASA only requires astronaut candidates to have a university bachelor’s degree in a STEM subject (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).
Degrees in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics are ideal.
NASA does, however, state that “an advanced degree is desirable” because “the quality of academic preparation is important.”
You must have excellent vision
Having 20/20 vision is required for astronauts, just as it is for pilots.
However, if you wear glasses, all is not lost.
You’re good to go if you have up to 20/100 uncorrected eyesight that can be surgically corrected to 20/20 vision. You’ll simply have to wait at least a year after surgery to begin training.
Handle the stress
Before being accepted into the program, all astronaut candidates must pass a physical.
Astronauts are expected to be physically fit in order to withstand extremes in barometric pressure. NASA requires aspiring astronauts to have a sitting blood pressure of around 140/90.
If accepted into the program, candidates will be required to participate in a variety of underwater exercises to further acclimate their bodies to pressure levels similar to those encountered in space.
According to NASA, you must be 158 to 190cm tall to be a commander or pilot astronaut.
To be a mission specialist, however, you must be “between 58.5 and 76 inches,” or 149 to 193cm.
A commander is in charge of the mission’s success, as well as the safety of the crew and the shuttle itself. The pilot astronaut assists the commander and plays a more technical role in the shuttle’s operation and control.
A mission specialist assists the commander and pilot by coordinating shuttle operations such as “crew activity planning, consumables usage, and experiment/payload operations.”
Handle long-distance relationships
Space missions can last months or even years. Astronaut Scott Kelly returned from his 340-day mission in March. If you want to be an astronaut, you must be comfortable with not seeing your family or friends for an extended period of time.
1,000 hours of jet piloting experience
When applying for NASA’s Astronaut Candidate Program, “flight test experience is highly desirable,” but it’s not a deal breaker if you’ve never flown a plane before.
After being accepted to the program, the 1,000 hours of experience are accumulated during your NASA training.
This is only required if you want to be a commander or pilot astronaut.
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7) Avoid the ‘vomit comet.’
The vomit comet, as the reduced-gravity aircraft is colloquially known, assists astronauts in acclimating to weightlessness. The aircraft, which remains within the Earth’s atmosphere, follows a series of parabolic paths, resulting in minutes of zero gravity as it free-falls. OKGo’s music video below was shot in a ‘vomit comet.’ It’s incredible.
Qualifications for Becoming an Astronaut
According to NASA, the following are the minimum requirements for becoming an astronaut:
- You must be a US citizen.
- Have at least two years of relevant work experience (or 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time on a jet aircraft)
- Pass the NASA flight astronaut physical examination.
- Have a master’s degree from an accredited institution in a STEM field.
In lieu of a master’s degree, a prospective astronaut can instead complete:
- Two years of work toward a STEM doctoral program
- Obtaining a Doctor of Medicine or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Degree
- Having completed a nationally recognized test pilot school program
What are astronauts up to?
Astronauts are not necessarily defined as spacecraft pilots, though this may be a requirement for some. Being an astronaut refers to any job done in space or involving space work, whether it is as an aerospace engineer, a scientist, or even as a space tourist or observer. Nonetheless, astronauts will spend more time on the ground than in space, with many tasks requiring ‘in practice’ in laboratories and simulations, as well as in real life aboard spacecraft or on the International Space Station. The roles and responsibilities of astronauts are summarized in the table below.
- Spacecraft operation or piloting
- Spacecraft systems and processes are monitored and evaluated.
- carrying out spacewalks or operations in orbit
- Experiments and scientific tests are carried out on spacecraft.
- Participating in simulations or testing spacecraft
- Inside the spacecraft, working in close quarters with team members.
- Ongoing communication with people back on Earth.
- Engaging with the media.
- Installation, maintenance, and repair of equipment, software, and hardware.
- Contributing to the daily operations of the spacecraft, such as food preparation and waste disposal.
How to become an Astronaut
On how to become an astronaut, becoming an astronaut necessitates extensive preparation, which may begin early in your education and career. The position is competitive, and only the best of the best is chosen to become astronauts. People can transfer from their current positions to train as astronauts, but the most common path to becoming an astronaut is to begin as a military pilot and progress from there. Given that becoming a military pilot is also a difficult role to obtain, this will give you an idea of what you might face if you want to become an astronaut. This section will walk you through the various steps required to move into this very exciting role.
Determine whether this is the right job for you
Given the complexities of the role, it is critical to be aware of the risks and challenges associated with becoming an astronaut. These can be significant and are non-negotiable. After you’ve given this some thought, consider whether your career interests and skills are a good match for the job. This is one way on how to become an Astronaut. Not only should your natural abilities and skills match the skills and qualities listed above, but you should also have a natural interest in space and space travel, as well as scientific curiosity and a desire to travel the world. If you don’t have these interests, the role may not be a good fit for you.
If you have evaluated your skills and interests and are still unsure about which career is best for you, it may be time to take a career test. CareerHunter’s six-stage career assessment, for example, analyzes your skills and interests and recommends career paths based on these, as well as the training and expertise required to excel in these careers. If you’re wondering what your best-fit job might be, give it a shot.
Comply with the fundamental requirements
This is another way on how to become an Astronaut. The first practical step toward becoming an astronaut is understanding and ensuring you meet the basic entry requirements and academic achievements. These are specific and stringent. Every national space agency and private space company will have their own requirements for astronauts, but here is a list of NASAs:
- US citizenship
- Master’s degree in a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics).
- Two years of professional experience in the above-mentioned degree field, or 1000 hours of flying command in a jet aircraft.
- Pass NASA’s rigorous physical examination.
It is worth noting that admission to NASA’s astronaut program is extremely competitive. In 2016, over eighteen thousand people applied, but only eleven were chosen!
As previously stated, a master’s degree in a STEM-related subject is required on how to become an astronaut. Because the astronaut program is so competitive, good grades — in fact, the best grades — are the best guarantee of making it to the subsequent rounds of selection. However, there are other options for meeting this educational requirement. NASA will also consider two years of work toward a doctorate program in a STEM field, a completed Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree, or completion of a nationally recognized test pilot school program. This is also another point on how to become an Astronaut
Submit an application for NASA’s candidate selection.
NASA’s candidate selection process is time-consuming and difficult. It takes about two years to complete, so brace yourself for the long haul! Following the set application window (usually in March), the summer is spent reviewing astronaut candidates to create a shortlist of highly qualified individuals, with references following shortly after. Interviews and assessments (including military vetting and the infamous medical examination) take place a year or so after applying for the role. Second-round interviews take place in early autumn of year two, with the final selection taking place later that season. This is another way on how to become an astronaut. In the winter of year two, the selected astronauts are announced.
Preparation for flight
Once chosen, you will go through two years of astronaut training, including various examinations and assessments to ensure you are ready to begin space operations. Astronaut training begins at the Astronaut Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Military water survival, SCUBA qualifications, swimming tests, hyperbaric and hypobaric pressure assessments, and an introduction to low- or zero-gravity flights are all part of this training. This is one of the ways on how to become an Astronaut. Following this, formal training begins. At this stage, trainee astronauts are taught how to operate various spacecraft systems and participate in full-scale simulations of these systems. Assessments are frequent and stringent, and failure results in expulsion from the program.
Points on how to improve your chances of how to become an astronaut
- Earn one or more advanced degrees in engineering/technology fields related to aerospace.
- For a few years, teach or work in an engineering/technology field.
- Study Russian
- Learn to scuba dive and gain experience
- Obtain emergency medical technician (EMT) certification
FAQS on How to become an Astronaut
How much are astronauts paid?
The salary of an astronaut is determined by your military status or expertise as a civilian astronaut. As an astronaut, you will not be paid if you are a member of the military. Your pay is determined by your military rank. Civilian astronauts are classified as government employees, with pay based on the federal General Schedule pay scales for grades GS-13 through GS-15. According to FederalPay.org, a GS-13 can earn up to $103,309 per year, while a GS-14 can earn up to $122,077. The annual salary for the top-level GS-15 position is $143,598.
How Long Does it Take to Become an Astronaut?
It will take commitment and time to achieve your goal of becoming an astronaut.
It takes about ten years to complete. This is how it works out: A bachelor's degree can be obtained in about four years, followed by two more years for a master's degree, two more years for professional experience, and a final two years for the required basic training.
What are the steps a 12-year-old should do to become an astronaut?
If you haven't learned how to swim yet, you should start learning now. Otherwise, there is nothing you need to do at this age. Improve your swimming and strive to achieve academic success.
How long does it take to become an astronaut?
The equivalent of ten years. Four years are spent in college, two years are spent earning a master's degree, two years are spent gaining work experience, and the final two years are spent in the NASA Astronaut Corps.
Is flying experience necessary?
Although prior flying experience is not necessary, any prior flying experience—military or otherwise—is advantageous. The NASA's "professional experience" requirement is satisfied by accumulating 1,000 hours of jet aircraft flying. Military service is typically a good way to gain jet aircraft experience.
A career as an astronaut is a highly competitive one. A prospective astronaut must meet NASA’s qualifications in addition to the decade of preparation. Although the chances of being hired by NASA are slim, it is certainly worth a shot if that is your hope and dream. This coveted position has the potential to literally change the world.
Becoming an astronaut is an aspirational and incredible job that provides much more than just a new perspective on the world. With only a small amount of time spent in space flight, the majority of astronaut activity takes place on the ground and is heavily weighted in the application of STEM principles. Nonetheless, with only 43 NASA astronauts on active duty, this is an exciting role with more competition than ever before.
It takes years of hard work, dedication, and good grades to become an astronaut. To maximize your chances of success as an astronaut, you must ensure that all aspects of your education and professional life are well-homed. However, if you are well-prepared and have a strong interest in space travel, the sky isn’t the limit!
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