Becoming an astronaut is the dream of millions of young people throughout the world. It is partially because astronauts seem to have such a glamorous job. After all, what could be more exciting than getting to fly into space for a living? Just like any other career, however, you need certain qualifications to apply to be an astronaut. It is thus good to know these requirements ahead of time.
Both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) require actual physical qualifications. General requirements for becoming an astronaut are as follows:
- Your height should be in the range 5’2” – 6’3”.
- ESA has an age preference 27 – 37 years old
- You have to have 20/20 vision, either with or without corrective lenses of some type.
- You cannot have blood pressure higher than 140/90 when you’re in a sitting position.
People who aren’t in good shape are more of a risk not just for flying, but for the training itself as well. Potential emergencies can make everything about the process more complicated.
Both NASA and ESA want physically and psychologically fit candidates. They will test you for both cardiovascular strength and an excellent mental state, among other things. They also give you computerised exams that test everything from psychological profiling to memory.
If you live in a country that doesn’t have its own space agency, you will be required to become a naturalised citizen of a country that does. This is because only citizens of that country can apply to be astronauts.
Taking a Look at Education and Experience
A bachelor’s degree is the minimum qualification required. Both NASA and ESA prefer bachelor’s degrees in areas such as engineering, physical science, biological science, or mathematics. Many astronauts have master’s degrees and even doctoral degrees, which is much better.
Both agencies also look for some relative experience. They prefer that you have one of two qualifications: either 1,000 hours of “pilot-in-command” time in a jet aircraft. Else, a minimum of three years’ experience which consists of “progressively responsible, professional experience” is required.
As you can see, you cannot just step out of college and apply to the astronaut program. You have to show that you’re interested in flying or be a professional and have advanced in your career up to that point. If you have the physical requirements, a college education, and some professional experience, you can move onto the next step.
Astronauts Need to Have Personalities
Like any other job, space agencies will conduct a personal interview that usually takes at least an hour. One of the reasons this is so important is because when you do go into space, you are likely to remain in those cramped quarters with other astronauts for up to six months, sometimes more.
The agency officials already know the personality traits of the other astronauts. During the interview, they will be sizing you up to make sure you and those astronauts will be able to work together well.
Applying to Become an Astronaut
There are two main ways to apply to become an astronaut: the military way and the civilian way. If you are a member of the US or Royal Armed Forces, you have to apply through your respective branch of the military. Your base or post commander will have additional information for you. If you are a civilian, you can apply directly to NASA or ESA. NASA astronaut jobs can be found on the website www.usajobs.gov and the European Astronaut Corps can be found on this website.
Before you apply, you should already have the above-mentioned qualifications, because otherwise the agency will not allow you to go any farther in the process. You should also keep in mind that these are the minimum requirements. In fact, these agencies’ astronaut programs look for only the very best and most-qualified individuals to be on their team, so anything you can do “over and beyond” will count in your favour.
What About the Training to Become an Astronaut?
Even if you get accepted into an astronaut training facility, you will be an official “candidate” for a long time, usually around two years, because that is how long the training takes. The training is intense and includes things such as:
- Training in SCUBA diving
- Learning Russian language
- Being exposed to both high and low atmospheric pressures
- Flight simulator training that exposes you to zero gravity pressure for 20 seconds at a time; the shuttle used is nicknamed the “Vomit Comet”
As you can see, training to be an astronaut is not for the faint of heart. This is why the qualification and testing process is so difficult and detailed. NASA and ESA remove anyone who does not meet the strict requirements set by both agencies.
How Much Do Astronauts Make?
The salary of an astronaut varies depending on experience. In the UK, the average salary for astronauts is around £67,000. These are just average numbers, so your own salary as an astronaut could be either higher or lower.
Other Important Things to Keep in Mind
After years of simulations and classroom training, you won’t be able to merely step into a shuttle and head out into space. The next step is to assist in other missions to see what you will be doing once you get assigned to a mission of your own. This can take many years because you need not only practical experience, but you also have to wait until your mission becomes available.
Moreover, NASA hires every few years, and since 1978 the ESA has only had three calls for astronaut candidate training. It is thus rare to get the chance to apply to be an astronaut. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should give up hope. If being an astronaut is your dream; it just means you have to be prepared for the possibility that it might not happen right away.
Also, keep in mind that the competition to become an astronaut is fierce. In May of 2008, for example, the ESA announced it was accepting candidates for astronaut training school. More than 10,000 people applied. Of those, roughly 8,400 met the qualifications to continue.
That number later went down to 22 after the examinations. By the time the actual training began in September of 2009, the number had whittled down to only six people – five men and one woman.
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