Have you ever dreamed of going to the stars, exploring deep space where no one has ever gone before? Do events like the 1969 moon landing and John Glenn’s orbit around the earth inspire you? If you have professional experience, determination, and interest in astronaut programs, you could explore becoming an astronaut.
What Is an Astronaut?
An astronaut is technically anyone trained by a space agency to pilot and serve as a crew member on a space shuttle. While this term describes anyone, regardless of space agency or country affiliation, it mostly refers to those working for governments. There is a growing interest in commercial space travel in recent years, which may shift the traditional astronaut definition.
Astronauts aren’t just people shot off into space. Despite what you see in Hollywood movies and TV shows, astronauts are some of the most talented experts in science, engineering, and mechanics. They use this knowledge to assist them in space travel, scientific experiments in deep space, and more.
What Does an Astronaut Do?
With its rigid program requirements, job opportunities, salary, and potential impact, becoming an astronaut is genuinely one of the most unique career paths you can pursue. Let’s look closer at what responsibilities astronaut and astronaut candidates have along their journey to the stars.
Explore Deep Space
Searching the depths of the observable universe is perhaps the best-known aspect of being an astronaut. First and foremost, astronauts are explorers and scientists. Their aim isn’t to achieve glory for themselves, but rather to advance the human race’s knowledge and capabilities. They do this by launching into space, orbiting the earth or the moon, and performing scientific experiments that are only achievable in the exosphere.
Engage in Scientific Study and Diplomacy
While not every space mission can be a walk on the moon or a long space shuttle trip to worlds unknown, becoming an astronaut is filled with a wide range of different responsibilities. Astronauts will often work alongside a space agency or agencies from different countries.
In 1998, the International Space Station launched. The project of five different space agencies, the International Space Station is a massive deep space research center. ESA, JAXA, Roscosmos, and NASA astronauts all take part in doing groundbreaking research in astronomy, physics, and meteorology.
This is a fantastic opportunity to build lasting positive relations with different countries and their governments. Through an intensive study of various scientific subjects, the International Space Station maintenance, and a cohesive, joint effort, you could build meaningful bonds with individuals.
Pilot Space Shuttles as Part of a Talented Crew
Astronauts ideally need to be accomplished pilots before their careers in a space agency. This is where their 1,000 hours of pilot experience becomes crucial. Astronaut candidates need to know the ins and outs of an aircraft, how to log pilot in command time, and be able to go long periods without landing.
Essential Astronaut Skills and Basic Requirements
Hold United States Citizenship
This may be a given, but to be a NASA astronaut, you need to be a citizen of the United States. This basic requirement also works if you hold dual citizenship to another country.
Have Years of Related Professional Experience
Being test pilots, piloting jet aircraft, or 1,000 hours of pilot-related experience is the ideal background for an astronaut. This also includes soft skills like leadership, teamwork, and determination.
Pass the Nasa Long-Duration Astronaut Physical and other Tests
Astronaut candidates have to undergo a rigorous physical examination for job consideration. After all, they will likely be in space for long durations, so their bodies need to be in peak physical condition. This specialized and unique astronaut physical prepares the individual for space travel by testing the following:
- Visual acuity: 20/20 in each eye
- Blood Pressure: can’t exceed 140/90
- Standing height: between 62 and 75 inches
Astronaut Salaries and Job Outlook
Astronaut salaries are based on a government pay scale, GS-12 through GS-13. Astronauts can make a lot of money doing one of the most unique jobs ever created. Starting out, astronauts can make $65,000 and have the potential to make $100,701 per year. The job outlook for NASA astronauts is complicated. Astronauts are always in demand at NASA. However, the staggered schedule of hiring, along with the rigid requirements, narrow down the field considerably.
How Long Does it Take to Become an Astronaut?
Before even applying to an astronaut program, you need to complete a bachelor’s degree, which will take around four years. With an additional three years of professional experience, and you could be looking at anywhere from seven to ten years of preparation.
After your background bulks up with applicable experience, the actual process of training to be a NASA astronaut takes up to two years. Trainees go over many different subjects, including public speaking, medical training, and low-gravity training.
How to Become an Astronaut: A Step by Step Guide
Applying for astronaut selection is extremely competitive. Every two years, well over 4,000 people will fill out an astronaut application. Only 20 of those 4,000 will be selected.
Not everyone is a natural fit for space travel and NASA has high standards. It’s nearly 74 times harder to become a NASA astronaut than it is to get into Harvard. To put this into perspective, the acceptance rate for Harvard in 2014 was 5.9 percent.
Step 1: Get a Bachelor’s Degree
NASA astronauts should ideally hold at least a bachelor’s degree in one of the STEM fields: physical science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. These bachelor’s degrees need to be from an accredited university. While earning a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field is a fantastic accomplishment, this may be the easiest of the requirements for being an astronaut candidate.
Step 2: Get Professional Experience
In the past, an easy way for astronauts to qualify for space travel was by having extensive prior professional experience as airforce pilots. Astronaut candidates need to have at least three years of professional experience or 1,000 hours. This experience can be in anything from being a test pilot to being a high-ranking college professor in aeronautics.
Step 3: Pass the Various Astronaut Physicals
Astronaut candidates need to complete the rigorous training laid out for them by their space agency. These are significantly difficult physicals and tests, with understandably rigid and unbending requirements. LASIK surgery or glasses can fix a less than ideal visual score, but you still need perfect blood pressure and must be in fantastic physical shape.
Step 4: Get Ready for Space Travel
At this point, an astronaut candidate is nearly ready to man a space shuttle and go into space. Although it’s time for celebration, it’s also crucial that the astronaut prepares for hard work, an unprecedented change in the environment, and long periods of isolation.
Should You Become an Astronaut in 2020?
If you feel that you have what it takes to man a space shuttle, go through the difficult astronaut selection process, and go where no man has gone before, then absolutely. The salary is fantastic, as well as the extremely distinctive opportunities afforded to you.
You could easily make a six-figure salary by engaging in space travel, working alongside a foreign space agency like Japan’s JAXA on the international space station, or just orbiting the earth. Regardless of what you choose as an astronaut candidate, there is a world of possibilities out there among the stars.
FAQ About Becoming an Astronaut
Astronauts work for about eight hours a day, very similar to those working full-time jobs on earth. Just like us on earth, they have a lot of downtime in their time off. Granted, they are still in space, so they can’t do much, but the schedule is strikingly similar to ours on solid ground. They even get weekends off.
Those looking to become NASA astronauts need to complete at least a standard bachelor’s degree in a STEM field. A standard STEM degree could range from physical sciences, mechanical engineering, aviation, and more. Having a strong STEM background better prepares the astronaut candidate for their duties in space.
Deep space missions vary in length. If a NASA astronaut is working on the International Space Station, they usually work at least six months. However, there is no set mission length. Some deep space missions last two days, others for over a year.
When a space agency isn’t conducting a mission, astronauts are usually on earth training for future missions. If they aren’t training, they are helping out at NASA in a multitude of ways. They can be in mission control, tinkering with space shuttle logistics, or developing better ways of completing spacewalks and space shuttle launches.