Many of us dreamed of becoming a NASA astronaut when we were young. Some of us never got over that dream. When John Glenn rode the shuttle for NASA in 1998 at the age of 77, that flight breathed new hope into many would-be astronauts.
So, how do you become an astronaut? Let’s discover the NASA employment path, together.
Time Required: Varies, But Several Years
Begin your preparation as early as possible. Learn the basics in elementary school, especially math and science. Read everything you can get your hands on about astronauts, space, and whatever field you want to work in.
Learn how to work effectively in a team environment. Also, don’t forget the world around you. NASA does not exist in a vacuum, and you shouldn’t either. Astronauts are team players.
Since a college degree is a necessity, it is imperative you do well in high school first. Study hard, make good grades, especially on the SAT or ACT. Make a good decision on the course of study you wish to pursue, whether it be engineering, biological or physical science, or mathematics.
NASA’s “minimum degree requirement” for an astronaut is a bachelor’s from an accredited institution, so work hard in your chosen classes. Your grades should allow you to enroll in a good Master of Science program.
After college, you’ll need 3 years of related increasingly responsible professional experience in your field. You should start preparing for this by choosing wisely when it comes to internships and coop positions in college.
Communication plays a very vital role, not only verbally, but written as well. In addition, the Space industry is now a global enterprise. It’s a good idea to be bilingual as well.
Once you’ve got your degree and some work experience, it’s time to apply for those astronauts positions. Fill out a Standard Form 171 (government employment application) and send it to Astronaut Selection Office, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX 77058.
The astronaut application will be reviewed and ranked by various criteria, including: height, experience and expertise. NASA receives an average of 4,015 applications to fill around 20 slots every 2 years.
Next, another screening process, and about 118 from the original 4,015 will be invited to Johnson Space Center for a week of interviews, medical exams and orientation. The ASB interviews each astronaut candidate and assigns them a rating based on: experience and potential, motivation, ability to function as a team member, communicative abilities, and adaptability. You can fail due to interpersonal skills.
If you are interested in a pilot/commander position, instead of mission specialist, you will also be required to log in at least 1,000 hours of flight time in command of a jet aircraft. During training all crew members train aboard a T-38 jet, in which the controls are identical to the Space Shuttle and therefore, can be used as a flight simulator either on the ground or in actual flight.
Many applicants do not meet medical standards while others withdraw after learning all that the job entails. After collecting significant information,the Astronaut Selection Board will choose its final candidates and pass that recommendation on the NASA Administrator who will make the final pick for employment.
Once selected, astronaut candidates begin a rigorous training program. Expect many long days, even after your training ends. Being an astronaut can be hard on family life.
An interesting fact is that out of 195 former and present astronauts, 123 have taken part in Scouting. It seems that scouting is a great place to learn many of the skills required to be an astronaut.
Don’t approach your college career concerned with how it will appear on a resume. Make sure you have a real interest in your course of study.
As soon as you arrive on campus, go to the co-operative and recruitment offices to explore the possibilities of an internship or work/study position to gain vital experience necessary to be marketable. If you wait till your senior year, or even after graduation, you’ve missed a golden opportunity.
Don’t rest on your laurels. Most astronauts to date have continued with career and/or education to the post-graduate levels and were able to substitute education for all or part of their work experience requirement. Still, the application process is a long one, and you still need to eat in the meantime.
The Astronaut Selection Board (ASB) is looking for people who have done very well in a technical field. Make sure you have sterling recommendations, especially from undergraduate and graduate school professors that can attest to your problem solving abilities, communicability with others and your ability to work well in a team.
What You Need:
- Height 64 and 76 inches
- 20/70 Corrected to 20/20
- Blood Pressure-140/90
- Bachelor’s Degree
- 3 Years Experience
For those of you from Eurpean climes ESA made its last Eurpean Astronaut Selection run in 2008 – you can find out more about their selection requirements here